TGIF: Priorities


Conference calls are always a hoot. Last week I was on a really fun one. The top guy on the call asked for every functional area to give a brief update and identify their top priorities.

I missed the memo that it was opposite day. As we went around the call, each team’s update read “This is everything that has happened, down to the minute, in our group since our last update, plus some stuff that we actually covered last time. If you asked me for more details, I wouldn’t be able to provide them because I’ve told you literally everything. As to our priorities, they are every single thing that we’re working on, plus some stuff we’d really like to get to if we have the time.”

It finally came to me, and I said, “We’re working on X, and it’s our priority right now.” My 10 second update felt pretty uncomfortable in such sharp contrast to everyone else. The leader said, “Is that it?” And I said, “Yep. We have a lot of other stuff we’d like to get done, but until we finish X, it’s our priority.” There was a long pause (but that little trick to get me talking stopped working a long time ago), and then the leader finally said, “That is great. On our next call let’s all identify the one thing that is our most important area of focus.”

So score one for the renegade with just one priority. Or, actually, just score one for the English language:

priority noun : something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first

Source: Merriam-Webster

When exactly did we drift into the land of “priorities”? Isn’t the plural an oxymoron? When did all of the stuff we’re working on switch from a brutal competition for first place to little league baseball where every task is a winner and gets a trophy? You can pretend to have countless priorities and “multi-task” all day long, but there can only be one most important thing that demands to be dealt with first. Unless, of course, you’re an octopus, since octopuses have brains for each of their tentacles (my 5 y.o. taught me something new this week).

I’ve been playing with the single priority concept this week, and it’s been going well. Picking one item at a time to start and finish from my endless list of stuff to do has been a lot more effective than picking five and finishing none of them. You’re even seeing the result: I finally made posting today my priority, and it kept all of the other competing “priorities” at bay last night. Voila!

Personal Finance Links

Finding a bunch of good personal finance links this week was not my priority, however, so I have only one to share: an interesting story about how Japanese people pretty much have disposable (one use) homes.

Almost everyone in Japan wants a brand new house, so there’s no market for existing ones – if you do buy one you just tear it down and build your own. That may not be the most efficient use of materials, and it certainly makes your house (separate from the land) a poor long-term investment. However, since the market has stabilized at this equilibrium, people aren’t relying on home equity to bail them out for retirement, so perhaps that’s a good thing.

Sometimes, a house doesn’t even make it a generation. I was pretty culture shocked when my in-laws decided to tear down their existing house and built a brand new one on the same piece of land.* The old house wasn’t in disrepair – it was, in my opinion, quite lovely. I think they reconfigured some space and added some cool new technology, but (and don’t tell them this) I couldn’t tell much of a difference between the old house and the new house.

I’m still wrapping my head around the concept, but I will say the idea of a disposable home does have some appeal, especially when I’m deep in the joys of home ownership.

The Market for President


I hate to call it this early, but it’s looking like Ms. Clinton has a monstrous lead and may be impossible to stop.

The good news is that the drama is nowhere near an end, and I’ll be interested in watching the odds as we lumber to the GOP convention.

Teaser for Upcoming Posts

Should I pay off my mortgage? Financial lessons from my HVAC. How to grill the perfect burger. All of them are swirling in the blender of creativity. If you have a vote, let me know in the comments.


Happy Friday everyone!


Random fact I discovered for this post: the plural of octopus is not octopi. Octopus is Greek in origin, so if you want to be super proper, you could pluralize it with octopodes. But octopuses works just fine. Who knew?

* Was my in-laws’ house really new? It’s an interesting philosophical question. You see, toilets in Japan are pretty awesome (just take my word for it). And my inlaws bought the Mercedes-Benz of Japanese toilets for their old house. While you might discard a house like a used Kleenex in Japan, not so an awesome toilet. That’s right – the toilet was removed from the old and installed in the new house. So, in a Ship of Theseus line of logic, I argue they haven’t built a new house at all.

Finally, if you haven’t seen this example of a typical conference call, enjoy!

4 thoughts on “TGIF: Priorities”

  1. You know everyone on that call was cursing you, right? That reminds me of the advice I would give staff doing interviews – don’t feel compelled to fill the silence. Sometimes (as was the case here), it works to your advantage.

    My vote is for perfect burger so long as you are starting at the beginning of the process with ingredients. Are you a meat-only purist, or do you introduce tasty additives (making them essentially little grilled meat-loafs).

    Finally, Japanese toilets are awesome. Especially the first time you encounter them (“is this seat warm?”) and play “I wonder what this button does?”

    1. I think people cursing me on conference calls is the norm, so this was just another day in the life 🙂

      Burger is a resounding favorite with 100.0% of the vote so far, so it’s likely to win. And the key lies in the pre-work, so I’ll cover it start to finish. The recipe is pretty simple and won’t risk your meatloaf-related ire, but there is a secret sauce which could be considered a tasty additive.

      The Japanese have indeed mastered the art of the toilet. We’ve got a toilet seat bidet here that is pretty cool by U.S. standards, but it’s like an outhouse compared to the wonders of technology over there. I remember a Kohler commercial a while back where they pulled out a faucet and told a famous architect “Design a house around this”. I always give myself a chuckle imagining my in-laws lugging their toilet in and saying the same. (P.S. thank you internet for making it so easy for me to find that commercial)

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