If a genie gave you the ability to work 20% faster, could you finally get your business to the next level? If those difficult tasks you had could be resolved with the click of one Staples EASY button, could you finally get your inbox to zero or your to-do list complete? If you could execute tasks quicker and more efficiently could you make the big moves that you have been dreaming about?
The myth about productivity is that if we had more time or if we could work quicker, we could accomplish everything we need to. But what if efficiency is not the most important factor for our productivity?
Consider if I went to go see the Celtics-Lakers game in Boston. It doesn’t matter how fast I drive or how quickly I got to Boston Garden, if the game was actually played in Los Angeles. A quick pace is only as helpful as a clear direction. In our work week, we have to know what our goals are and what responsibilities will contribute the most to accomplishing those goals. This is why productivity is about priority, not pace.
Big Rocks First
In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey shares an illustration that helps leaders change their perspective on productivity. Imagine if you were asked to fill a vase with a combination of big rocks, small rocks, and sand. How would you best utilize the space in the vase? Of course, you would start with the big rocks, then the small rocks, and then lastly the sand. The smaller objects can work around the bigger ones, but it doesn’t work the other way around. One observation from this illustration is to place the biggest things in first. An even more insightful observation is that if you don’t put the big things in first, they would never fit.
Now, think about your work week as the vase and your tasks, meetings, and projects as the rocks and sand. Leaders must treat their important tasks like the big rocks in Covey’s illustration. We must place them in first and rearrange the rest of our responsibilities around them. Often, we do the opposite as we allow what is most urgent to overtake what is most important. This is because nothing screams louder than the urgent; it appears out of nowhere and demands our immediate attention.
Often, the tyranny of the urgent comes at the expense of what is important. The deadlines and meetings, overtake things like long-term planning, personal development and relational investments. When we allow the urgent to act on us and not us act on the important, we lose control of how we spend our time. This is why Covey says, “Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities (First Things First).” We must start with scheduling what is most important and then let the urgent matters fit within whatever time is left. Below is a simple tool that helps you do exactly that.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Before becoming the 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the general of the United States Army where he developed a tool that is now know as the Important/Urgent Matrix. It is a simple framework for you to think through your responsibilities. You can easily place any task, project, or meeting into one of these four quadrants by asking these questions:
- How important for the organization is it that I complete this task?
- How urgent is this task?
Do First (Important & Urgent): Whether this is preparing for a big presentation that week or meeting with your supervisor, these are things that you want to make sure you do. It is not bad to have tasks in this quadrant, but you want to evaluate why they are there. You want to avoid tasks being placed in this quadrant due to lack of planning or procrastination.
Schedule It (Important, Not Urgent): This is the most important quadrant, because it includes some of the most meaningful responsibilities of your job. Long-range planning, relationship building, and personal development would all be in this quadrant. Since these tasks are not urgent, this quadrant does not act on you, you must act on it by scheduling it in your week and protecting it from more urgent matters. The larger this quadrant is, the more productive you will be.
Delegate It (Not Important, Urgent): These are tasks that don’t require you to accomplish it. If the task is important to the organization, figure out how you can delegate and empower people (see previous post) to take these responsibilities. Other options would be to automate things or if they are not important to the organization, eliminate them. This quadrant is what allows you to increase the amount of time spent in the “Schedule It” quadrant.
Eliminate It (Not Important, Not Urgent): These tasks can look like a lot of things, but the most common is social media. Anything that you use as an escape from productivity that doesn’t contribute to the organization would fall into this category.
If you want more explanation on this tool, see the video below.