Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, believes we’re ‘prisoners of the urgent.’ “We react to what is in front of us, whether it truly matters or not”, as he spills wisdom on prioritization and work-life balance. We have become so addicted to the speed of our lives, that we often mistake activity for productivity.
One of the top challenges global executives face is deciding what to do less of, for a better prioritized and more intentional life. Making these choices requires that we take a pause to reflect on, access and make sense of what is around us. What follows is conscious course correction to refuel, renew and jump back into the fray.
But, sometimes the list of tasks is so long, it’s overwhelming.
We have a few simple practices that serve a better prioritized life.
Break down the long list of tasks by different contexts – work, errands, home, etc. Take ownership of the workload and start accessing how well you’re handling it. Researchers have found that the excess of choices often leads us to decisions that go against our best in interests. One consequence of making a decision from too many choices is that it produces. We struggle to the decision right. To overcome the paralysis, we make a choice and end up feeling less satisfied with the result of the choice.
Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower used a 4-box system for organizing tasks by urgency and importance and getting them done. Using the Eisenhower Matrix, you can separate your actions based on four possibilities:
Urgent And Important (do it now)
The Quadrant 1 tasks require our immediate attention and work towards fulfilling our long-term goals and missions in life. Specific examples of the Quadrant 1 typically consists of crisis, problems and deadlines. Tax deadline, A&E emergency, project deadline, and certain emails (a job offer, an email for a new job opportunity, etc.) are some distinct examples of Urgent And Important.
With a bit of planning-ahead and avoiding procrastination, you can become more efficient at Q1 tasks. If you kitty is filled with urgent and important activities, identify which one of these could you have foreseen, and think about how you could schedule similar activities ahead of time.
Important Not Urgent (decide when to do it)
The Quadrant 2 tasks are centered around planning for the future and improving yourself to provide everlasting happiness and success. Family time, meditating, spending time with a rewarding hobby, car and home maintenance, creating a budget and savings plans are some examples of Important Not Urgent.
Make sure you have plenty of time to do these things properly, so they do not become urgent. Leave enough time in your schedule to deal with unforeseen problems. This will maximize your chances of keeping on track, and help you avoid the stress of work becoming more urgent.
Urgent Not Important (delegate it)
The Quadrant 2 tasks require our attention now, but they don’t help us achieve our goals or fulfill our mission. Phone calls, text messages, emails, and in-person drop-ins are some examples of Urgent Not Important. A common source of such activities is distractions and interruptions. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to say “no” to people, or encourage them to solve the problem themselves.
Not Important Not Urgent (delete it)
The Quadrant 4 tasks are primarily distractions. Watching TV, mindless web browsing, indulgence on social media are specific examples of Not Important Not Urgent tasks.
Take a few minutes to review your tasks and project lists, and see if you can simplify them. Your to-do list may tend to spill over time, so take time out and focus on what is really important and eliminate the rest.
During his time in the office, Eisenhower launched programs that directly led to the development of the interstate highway system in the U.S., the launch of the DARPA, and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources under the Atomic Energy Act.
An example of what my Eisenhower Matrix looks like.
The beauty of this prioritizing method is that it relies on your intuition. After you’ve been one a few projects, you’ll instinctively know which tasks are your most important. It becomes way easy to figure out how to prioritize your tasks so that even the most important tasks don’t fall by the wayside to the unexpected and urgent ones.
Using the Eisenhower Box, you can sort your tasks into the four quadrants.
Put A Response Deadline
Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, founders of Birchbox, follow a simple prioritization method. They insist that team members indicate when they need a response in all emails. It’s one of the best time-saving tricks to get coworkers to include deadlines for even simple questions.
You want to be a successful entrepreneur, but you don’t know where to start. The path isn’t perfect, it is full of trial and error and setbacks.
The most proactive entrepreneurs maniacally prioritize tasks and are consistent with it. Remember, when prioritizing tasks, you’ll need to make the same decision a hundred times: is this absolutely necessary to do?