Writing out to-do lists for most leaders is a well formed habit. It’s even a necessity to staying productive. As passionate as we are about getting things done, we can also lose effectiveness by rushing through our task selection. It’s not about getting tasks done that drives producitivity but rather the tasks we assign ourselves and the selction process.
I came across a technique I wanted to share with you to illustrate my message. It’s called the Eisenhower matrix and it’s divided into 4 parts, or quadrants. In each quadrant, we can begin to classify tasks based on their importance and whether a task is urgent or can be prioritized for later.
- Quadrant 1 – Urgent and Important tasks – these are critical to your day and must be dealt with immediately. Think dealing with a heart attack or child in hospital.
- Quadrant 2 – Not Urgent and Important tasks – You want to spend most of your time in this quadrant. Think regular exercise or good parenting. If you exercise regularly you’re less likely to end up with a heart attack.
- Quadrant 3 – Urgent but not Important tasks – Unfortunately we waste a lot of time in this quadrant. Think ‘urgent’ emails or constantly responding to SMS messages. These appear urgent but are just interruptions and hijack your day.
- Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent and Not Important – These are downtime and recreational activities. You need to decompress but try and schedule these towards the end of the day.
Our favorite 7 ways to prioritize tasks for busy professionals
1. Mornings – make it jump start your day
Most successful people make this part of their day the most influential. By the time they reach lunch hour, they will ahve completed their most important tasks making the rest of their day open to planning and prioritizing for the next day. Additionally, they can balance other needs such as getting a workout in, reading inspiring material (like this article!), or reviewing taks for tomorrow.
2. Using the Timeboxing approach
This approach is for people who use a calendar or, better yet, a digital calendar like the one on your phone that syncs with one on your desktop. (Think iCalendar or Google Calendars). Essentially, you take your most important tasks and schedule them as appointments. This allows you to reduce stress by knowing it takes up a time slot on your day, you can see how much of your time you are committing to that task, and you get to visualize your day’s commitments in terms of time slots.
3. Don’t be afraid of sayin “no”
The most generous bosses in the world are allowed to turn down invitations to be a part of special events and groups. In fact, to maintain a level or balance, one must know how to turn down an invitation gracefully by saying “no”. To make your to-do list selection able to accomplish more, you need to have less on it – not more!
4. Use the Pomodoro approach
For people that have tasks that require them to focus for a longer period of time, this approach is quite handy. If you are trying to focus and create or analyze something of importance you don’t need interruptions. However, staying focused for too long can also work against you. To use the Pomodoro approach, set a timer on your phone or computer for 25 minute segments. After every segment, get up and clear your head for a few moments. Maybe eat that healthy snack, drink a glass of water, or just get a breath of fresh air! After every 4 Pomodor segments, go grab some lunch or an afternoon nap but not for too long! Try not to lose your momentum past an hour!
5. Get a handle on your email
Email can be one of those activities that can drown out your attempt at getting anything productive done. One approach, is to use time blocks for responding to anything urgent. Set times from 10am, 12pm, and 3pm as times your constituents can expect to hear from you – and then stick to it! Use an out of office reply or a message in your email signature. You will see how some of those “urgent” matters resolve themsleves!
6. Establish a rhythm of the day
Some people can “go at it” for long periods of time. Yet, when does that period begin and end? Also, we can’t all work at that pace! What some people suggest is to have a long and short period of work. For instance, at the beginning of the day, start on those tasks that take the longest and include short periods of rest, similar to the Pomodor approach. Later in the day, after lunch maybe, make the work periods shorter and the rest periods longer.
7. Make it a habit
Many high achievers tend to make certain producitivity rituals a habit. We all have a good habit of taking showers and brushing teeth that we tend not to put it on a list of any sort (this does not include kids!). Imagine being able to get into a habit of a productive ritual! Pick one or two things you feel you need to get done on a routine and invest yourself in making it a habit you don’t have to think about. You will see in time how this freedom of mind will allow for more clarity and focus on other important items of the day.
We hope you enjoyed and can apply some of these concepts to improving time management challenges. What works for you? Feel free to leave us a comment!
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