One of the toughest lessons for me to learn – and thus one of the more difficult lessons to impart to my own children and my students in school – is that of prioritizing tasks. As students in numerous schools around might recognize rom the writing of the late Dr. Stephen Covey, putting first things first is an important step on the upward climb toward success.

Unless you have a solid base upon which to set your ladder, its height is irrelevant. You might, in other words, have seemingly endless potential as a person – as a student, as a teacher, as a professional, as a farmer, etc. – but unless you anchor the foot of that ladder (your abilities) to solid footing, you’re apt to tumble.

Even worse, a taller ladder means you fall further, and the cruel world loves to celebrate the demise of folks who possess great potential. When the kid who always knows the answer gets one wrong on the test, the rest of the class celebrates: such is life.

It has been a personal struggle for me to know, as Bob Seger wrote many years ago in the song ‘Against the Wind” – ‘what to leave in, what to leave out.’ Balancing what needs to be done with what has to be done now can be frustrating, especially when all tasks in life are not necessarily pleasant or personally fulfilling.

And we are all challenged to create a hierarchy regarding our loved ones. Family is who I need to put first, but work demands certain hours of my life belong to other people. That’s not a problem unique to my experience or yours, but most of us will at some point struggle to know how specifically to prioritize our lives at the house with our lives outside the home.

One thing I am learning as the years continue is that of patience – and sometimes I have to practice the most patience upon myself. I have proven to be, as it turns out, the most frustrating person I know.

I went to bed the other night and thought about a promise I had not kept to one of my kids. What can you do at 11:00, when the house is a sleep and the day’s work is in the books? There are no take-backs, no easy fixes to an imperfect day. You have no choice at that point; you ask the Good Lord to give you a better tomorrow, and then you try to right today’s wrongs with tomorrow’s fresh slate of opportunities.

But in the middle of it all, you make more mistakes tomorrow, that need correcting the next day. By the end of it, you’re leaving this life before you have accomplished all you wished to finish. Priorities can be built on solid principles, but when we neglect them, they seem to shift.

I woke up Monday morning of this past week, got ready for the day, dressed for work, made coffee and sat down to read a little. Rarely do I have such a fulfilling, grown-up start to my day. Usually I’m either throwing on clothes and running out the door to get my workday started, or I’m dragging my feet and not starting as efficiently as I should. It will be no surprise to most of you when I say that the entire remainder of the day went more productively after getting off to a stronger start.

When we know what works in this life, why do we ever do anything else? As it turns out, putting first things first is an easy concept to envision, but is a little more complicated in its daily execution.

So day-to-day, I suppose we just continue to build (or reinforce) our foundations. The important people in our lives need regular time and attention, or we risk losing them – or at the least losing our closeness to them. Every day won’t be super-efficient – or even adequately efficient – but if we know who and what is most important in our lives, we have the best start we can get.

Matt Pearl owns and operates newspapers in King City, Albany and Grant City.