What’s urgent? What’s important? Figure that out and getting all your work done gets a lot easier.
This idea isn’t new and is based on the Eisenhower Matrix which was developed in the 50s by Dwight D. Eisenhower the 34th President of the United States, but it can be very impactful.
With that said, and as easy as it sounds, it takes practice.
The overall idea is that by giving yourself timelines and organising your tasks into important v urgent (or not at all important or urgent) you’ll get everything you need to do done and minimise stress levels.
The impactfulness of this idea can be seen in the 4-day week culture, where employees work just 4 days but get as much work done as they would have in 5. Or in Tokyo where business leader Yoshie Komuro has banned overtime and reaped the benefits. Speaking about the power of efficiency Komuro says…
“I have been running my company without overtime for the past six years. All the best employees in my firm are actually women who work on their limited schedules.”
Prioritisation, a clear understanding of your priorities and delegation are all key here. Once you’ve got that sorted and get into a routine, you’ll find your work day is more organised and efficient.
Deciding what’s urgent and what’s important
What can you do today that will make tomorrow better and more productive?
Is it important that this task gets done today – will a deadline be missed if you don’t? Will another team member’s work suffer? Will an important client be disappointed? Will your day tomorrow be better if you do this thing today? Will this task contribute to your longer-term goals – or will it have no impact?
Basically, prioritise your work by how impactful a task is, and how important it is that you yourself do this job.
Clear understanding of your priorities
Is this your job? Could someone else do it – and is it more suited to their skills and role? This quickly moves us on to delegation…
Could, and should, this task be done by someone else? Will they be able to do it efficiently and does it fall more into the day to day? Or, crucially could the person who is asking you to do X,Y or Z do it themselves if you show them how?
Delegating is a great time saver, but only if you delegate the right things to the right person. Otherwise, work won’t get done or won’t be done to the standards you’re expecting.
Using the Eisenhower Matrix to get things done
Urgent tasks zap your time and plans and don’t contribute to the long term. They’re often a cause of stress too. Basically, if you can avoid “urgent” requests you’ll be a happier and more productive worker.
The Eisenhower Matrix is the most widely used way to clarify important v urgent tasks. It can differ slightly but largely it’s broken up into 4 sections:
- Do first – important things you must do today
- Schedule – important, but non-urgent, things you should schedule into your week or month
- Delegate – urgent things that can be done by someone else
- Don’t do – if it’s not urgent or important, don’t do it
By having everything planned or delegated you’ll get everything done and be less stressed. Some people refer to this as purposeful procrastination.
The key difference between procrastination and purposeful procrastination is that you’re choosing a time in the future that the task will get done and sticking to it.
I’ve found that by consciously deciding I’ll do a task later in the week, and by putting a reminder in my diary for it, I can focus much more on the task at hand – which is more important that I get done sooner.
Using this logic means you’ll have one, or many, less things on your mind but can be at ease knowing you will get everything done. The task might even dissolve by then, or you might be able to delegate it.
A note on the power and limits of delegating
Delegating is a great time saver, but only if you delegate the right things to the right person.
When delegating tasks, it’s important to keep track of what you’ve delegated so you can follow up and make sure it’s done. A simple way to do this is by keeping a folder in your emails for people on your team you often delegate to. When you email over a task add it to the folder and then you’ll have a ready-made list of all requests.
By making lists and delegating where possible you’ll ease stress levels, be able to focus and get all your work done.
If you have no one to delegate to and often find there are not enough hours in the day it could be time to talk to your manager about a new team member, or an investment in technology to soften the load of more menial tasks.
Savour the little important wins each day
The basis of positive psychology lies in savouring and acknowledging accomplishments – big and small.
By keeping a list and crossing off completed work you’re recognising your small or big wins from the day. By savouring these accomplishments your giving, yourself a sense of gratification and increasing your awareness of what you spend your time on. All part of positive psychology and the real trick to getting all your work done.