Action Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Progress – The Value of Priorities

by Lisa Call on November 2, 2012

in Being an Artist

Abstract Contemporary Textile Painting / Art Quilt - Portals #5 ©2012 Lisa Call, Textile Artist, Denver, Colorado
Portals #5
©2012 Lisa Call
52 x 85 inches
Textile Painting (Fabric hand dyed by the artist, cotton batting, cotton thread)

To Do Lists

Lately I’ve been having problems with my todo lists. I’m great at making them and I’m really good at crossing things off the list but I’m feeling like I’m running in quick sand. I’m still not making it to my studio as much as I want and the big todos never seem to get done.

I’m super busy yet the progress forward is incredibly slow.

With the help of my support system – my coach, mastermind partner, a couple of new accountability partners and my boyfriend – I’ve come to identify the problem as a complete lack of priorities to help structure my activities.

I make long lists of goals for the month, break them down by weeks and then eventually by day. It’s all very impressive but everything on the list is of equal importance.

So when its time to do stuff – I certainly do it. Heck – I’m always doing stuff!

Yet I pick the easy stuff on the list – like call the credit card company instead of rewrite my artist statement. Or I’ll update social media instead of working in my studio.

The result is I can usually cross most things off my list but I find what remains are always the big tasks, so I’m just treading water, not moving forward.

I might dive into the ‘why’ of this behavior in a future posts but the quick summary is that it’s about being sneaky (I look busy – go me) and avoiding risk (never trying new things as I’m busy with the old ones) and fear (the unknown and success are pretty terrifying).

Is it Really Important?

My coach gave me an assignment to prioritize my list of goals for November. So yesterday I managed to avoid that job by jumping from task to task getting essentially nothing done in a fit of amazing unhealthy multitasking.

I’ve been stuck wondering how the heck DO I prioritize my goals. As I sat down to write this blog post I was wondering what I would say… “um, yeah, well I need to do this”.

Fortunately, as happens very frequently when I write, a good idea popped into my head. I remembered the extremely useful Urgent/Important Matrix (read the linked article if you aren’t familiar with the concept).

Awesome – I have a place to start – I can sort my list out by this matrix.

My goal will be operate in the Important and Non-Urgent quadrant as much as possible.

The hope is for things never to reach Important and Urgent as this tends to be a result of procrastination. Doing things that aren’t important or urgent is distraction and I need to hire someone to do the urgent but not important things – like cleaning my house or calling credit card companies.


Although I suspect this is just a start.

It will help me identify exactly the tasks that will allow me to move forward – but within that quadrant I will need to assign each task a priority as they can’t all be equal, or I’m back to the same place of confusion.

I have decided that working in my studio is going to be placed firmly at the top of the list. Over the last few years it has fallen in priority and I need to reinstate it as Queen.

Because none of the marketing or teaching or writing makes sense if I’m not making my own art first.

Portals #5 is an example of what happens when my studio gets the desired attention.

A new direction. A big textile painting (over 4×7 feet in size).

New doors opening.

How do you prioritize your tasks and goals?



Patt November 2, 2012 at 10:31 am

Well said Lisa! Sounds so much like my world! I have really been trying to make my painting priority as well. I like the idea of accountability partners- I think that is very powerful. I try hard not to procrastinate as I hate living in the urgent quadrant. I must get to my studio now. I am working through my stack of unfinished pieces and my goal is to resolve and finish 3 of them today1

Lisa Call November 10, 2012 at 11:49 am


It’s always good to know we are not alone. I hope you got your 3 pieces finished they day you wrote :)


Sharon Robinson November 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I love the “urgent/important” concept. I have shared it with a lot of people, but don’t always implement it myself. Thanks for the reminder!

Lisa Call November 10, 2012 at 11:49 am


Sometimes I find it hard to distinguish between important and urgent but I’m getting better. Like right now – responding to blog comments – not urgent but important :)


Ruth de Vos November 3, 2012 at 12:06 am

You are so right, Lisa. It is good for me to have this spelled out as you have done here! Ideally I like to tackle those Important Things with a clean house and a clear ( or at least significantly reduced ) to do list. But that’s probably not the most effective way to meet my goals… Loving that artwork very much!

Lisa Call November 10, 2012 at 11:50 am


Yes! When we spend all our time getting ready to do what we want (ie cleaning) we tend to never get to what we want!


Toni Ruppert November 3, 2012 at 6:32 am

Thank you Lisa for your transparency…as usual. I just spent yesterday writing goals and sorting them into short-term and long term lists. This morning, after reviewing these goals, I felt stuck. I decided to walk through my creative area and just offer Thanksgiving and gratitude for my mind, body, ideas, art supplies, etc. Oh so helpful. Then I logged on and saw your post. Wow! How timely. I love your new art – it’s lovely.

Lisa Call November 10, 2012 at 11:51 am


Good for you working on your goals! I hope you were able to move passed the stuckness and start taking action.

Thank you.


Gail Segreto November 4, 2012 at 10:08 am

Like many others, I often avoid prioritizing formally. But I do have a strong sense of what is most important. For things that require inspiration, I usually let it dwell in my mind without taking action, then when the time is right or when there is little time left, I flows out like a river.
but for many more mundane but necessary tasks, I have an all or nothing approach. For me there is always some sort of deadline, even if I set it for myself. If there is no deadline, then it was not really that important. I am usually working on what is due next on my time line. Sometimes I have to drop everything else to get it done. And sometimes I can get it done before the D day.
So, I guess instead of setting priorities I assign deadline dates to meet.

Lisa Call November 10, 2012 at 11:53 am


You have definitely hit upon a helpful technique – deadlines are motivating. For all of us – it gives us a timeline to complete the work. I also like the all or nothing approach -multitasking doesn’t usually increase productivity!


wholly jeanne November 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm

This piece is big and beautiful! I tend to toss everything in the urgent box because I just want so badly to find myself caught up One Day. I know? I live in a fantasy world. Am working on a new task management system. Again.

Lisa Call November 9, 2012 at 7:09 am


That is exactly what I do – and then I just fail to get it done and feel more behind. Good luck with your new system! Mine is slowly kicking in and yielding results.


Shelley November 14, 2012 at 12:03 am

I found your blog while trying to put off going to the studio to finish for an exhibition…

I usually find that the urgent things are the ones that keep me awake (or up early as today) but the mere fact of urgency scares me so to avoid it I decide to classify my photo collection or something. It’s a funny business, making things – SO good when it’s going right, yet sometimes SO difficult to actually confront.

Better get on with it then – I will be comforted all day by the image of your truly beautiful textile painting.

Lisa Call November 14, 2012 at 9:51 am


I love this comment! It rings so true for me. My ability to procrastinate seems to increase as the deadline draws near. It is a funny business!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you made it to the studio and completed!


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