Often it feels that if we prioritize our tasks properly, we’ll get more accomplished, or at least get the most meaningful tasks out of the way. On the other hand, how often do we make a list in the morning, or even the night before, knowing that we’ll be “laser-focused” – only to find that by the end of the day, we’ve hardly made a dent in our list? The challenge is that despite our good intentions, our day often gets filled with interruptions and/or urgent matters that require our immediate attention. We’ll address dealing with interruptions next month and discuss urgent matters this month.
Let’s break events/demands/tasks into four areas, which are fairly self-explanatory:
• Urgent and Important
• Not Urgent and Important
• Urgent and Not Important
• Not Urgent and Not Important
The first question to ask yourself is, “How much of my day do I spend in each area?”
Take some time to give yourself a clear and accurate picture of your typical day. Usually we have a sense of how we imagine our day to be, but the reality can be quite a different story. One way to get a true snapshot is to make your way through a day or two, noting which area each task falls into.
The second question to ask is, “Where do I want to spend the majority of my day?”
Surprisingly, many clients and workshop attendees answer this wrong. (Which helps explain why time management is an ongoing issue!)
Many people will look at the four areas of priority and importance, and decide that their time is best spent on the urgent and important. Know why this is the wrong answer? The explanation lies in understanding what the Urgent and Important represents. Most people would describe these tasks as “Fires”. The truth is, if we are to be highly productive, we need to minimize the fires and spend the majority of our time on Important tasks before they become Urgent (Not Urgent and Important). We are in our most productive state – effective and creative – when we aren’t in a state of stress or duress.
However, we can’t get to work on Important matters before they become Urgent if we are constantly dealing with “Fires”. They are things that are critical to address immediately. And they truly are. The key to minimizing the number of fires, once you have dealt with them, is to work to keep them from happening again. How do you do that? It starts by understanding that the fire is a symptom rather than a problem. Work to uncover the real problem and then solve it. Usually the solution is fairly straightforward – it’s uncovering the problem that’s the challenge.
The other two areas, the “Not Important” ones, are usually made up of tasks that can either be delegated or postponed to a time of the day or week that makes sense. These would be times that are not “Prime Time” or times of low personal energy – perhaps late in the afternoon or just after lunch. We’ll discuss the concept of Energy Management as a productivity tool later.
The last part of moving into and staying in the “Not Urgent and Important” area is to be self-disciplined enough to work on and complete tasks before you “have to”. Develop the habit of dealing with responsibilities as they come to you instead of waiting to the last minute.