We live in a world of constant disruptions: phone calls, walk-ins, emails, Facebook messages, tweets, text messages, push notifications about news or your favorite sports team, etc., etc., etc. I had a discussion with a doctor recently; he told me about a study that showed people are actually becoming addicted to distractions (you know, like when you reach in your pocket to check your cell phone because you were sure you felt it vibrate, only to find out it didn't).
If you feel like you are always overbooked with so much to do, no end in sight and like you could not possibly find one more moment in your day - there is hope. This hope comes in two words: Focus and Routine.
Do this: make a list of every single thing that you have to do (if you already have a “to do list” – kudos to you, this part is done). Now determine the importance and urgency of each - either a task is important or it isn't. Same thing with urgency. Use these definitions to help decide:
Important: Tasks that are important to the success of the business, your job performance, or personal goals.
Urgent: Tasks that have a due date near or rapidly approaching. If there is no defined due date, it cannot be urgent.
1. Important and urgent tasks: Need to complete these fairly quickly - if you don't there will be a significant consequence.
2. Important and not urgent tasks: Typically longer term, High-Payoff activities. Make time to get these done - and schedule them in your calendar.
3. Not important and urgent tasks: Usually requests from other people that are not "mission critical" type activities. Delegate these (if you have the option), automate, or wait until the need for the task pops up again.
4. Not important and not urgent tasks: No value + No deadline = No attention from you. Get rid of these ASAP (and smile when you do)!
Many of us are aware of the "4 Quadrant" prioritization matrix discussed above (thank you Stephen Covey), but to be a success - it needs to be an integrated part of your day. Three systems need to be in place to ensure you are the one managing your workday, and not the other way around:
- A system to prioritize the "ins" of new "things" coming at you. Develop a habit to determine urgency and importance on every single request and project coming at you. Unless you can get it done in 30 seconds or less, put it in the proper Quadrant and get back to it when appropriate. Email is a huge time waster - set aside short bursts of time to scan though emails and label them Q1, Q2, Q3, or delete them.
- A system to crush the items in Quadrant I. Carve out a set amount of time in your calendar each day to address only Quadrant I. No phone calls (send calls to voicemail), no emails (turn off alerts and don't open), no strolling through the internet and reading random articles (come on now, FOCUS!). You need to get ahead of and stay ahead of Quadrant I - make this a priority. For me, 7:15 to 9:30 every day is all about knocking out as many items in Quadrant I as possible.
- A system to make sure your focus stays on Quadrant II activities. Quadrant II activities are typically longer term, larger projects. Break these into 30 to 60 minute chunks, and block out the appropriate time in your calendar at the next available time slot. Stick to these commitments and work through the Quadrant II's - again, shut off all interruptions during this time. Because these are longer term, they will be put off for more urgent items (Q1's and *gasp* Q3's!) if there is a lack of a disciplined approach.
Get Started Today!
For those that are buried in a mountain of "to do's" and don't have a method for prioritizing or a routine to stay focused - give this method a try. Like right now. You will thank yourself!
For those of you that already have a successful prioritization process, I'd love to hear about it - please share in the comments below.