Every single person on Earth has 168 hours in a week; so how come some people accomplish so much and others so little?
It’s simple: prioritization.
Those who accomplish more examine all the things on their plate – from responding to emails to designing a PowerPoint for a big presentation to developing and implementing a 5-year marketing plan – and distinguish which items are urgent and/or important, and which ones are not.
The average person spends a majority of their time working on projects that don’t add value. They’re bombarded with emails, phone calls, and people knocking on the door to ask about their weekend.
In his book The One Thing, real estate mogul, Gary Keller (of Keller-William) not only discusses prioritization techniques, but also dives into the value of simplifying your workload by focusing on the one most important task in any given project.
We all like to think we can multi-task, but how can we put 100% effort into a critical project, if we’re simultaneously devoting 30% of our attention to more menial tasks. So, with that in mind: what is the one thing that, if completed, would make your life easier and/or eliminate other unnecessary work?
Perhaps you thought of it right away. Or maybe you need some time to figure it out. If it’s the latter, utilize the Eisenhower Decision Matrix (aka Urgent-Important Matrix) to help you prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. The four quadrants are:
- Important and Urgent – Crises and Emergencies
- Important but Not Urgent – Prevention, Planning, and Improvement
- Not Important but Urgent – Interruptions and Busy Work
- Not Important and Not Urgent – Time Wasters
Once you’ve filled out the matrix, examine the tasks that are in Quadrant 4… and stop doing them immediately. They’re time-wasters and you have more important things to do right now. Look at all the things in Quadrant 3 and stop doing them too… although it will be difficult because it requires saying no to people.
Now turn your attention to Quadrant 2 – the not urgent, but important box. We should spend most of our time in this quadrant, but because of emergencies and interruptions we rarely cross anything off this list. However, it’s important to get these items accomplished because it can lead to a clearer vision and fewer crisis situations. Which one of these tasks do you want to focus on? What is your one thing?
Keller argues the best approach to accomplishing that one thing is the Pomodoro technique, which prescribes dedicating blocks of time to working on and finishing a project. Time blocking simply means you are making an appointment with yourself in order to finish a specific task or project. Benefits of time blocking include:
- Effectively and efficiently organizing your time;
- Helping you focus on the task at hand; and
- Minimizing distractions.
Keller recommends blocking four hours a day for each project until it’s completed. That may sound extreme to some, but he believes it’s the only way to get things done.
Here are some tips to start time blocking:
- Evaluate how long the project will take to complete and set up goals or milestones to accomplish by a certain date;
- Schedule planning time to reflect on how things are going and determine if you need to reevaluate any aspects;
- Use a visual calendar tool to carve out your time blocks;
- Use different color codes so your calendar is easy to read;
- Schedule breaks. To start it is recommended that you work productively for 25 minutes and then take a break for five; as you get more proficient at time blocking, you can increase the length of work time and break time accordingly;
- Use a timer to stay on task for the designated time period;
- Limit activities that will distract you; Close Outlook, log out of Facebook, turn down the radio and just concentrate on the task at hand;
- If you work in an office, notify others you will not be available during your scheduled time blocks;
- Keep working until the time block is over, even if you finished early. Use it as time to review your work and make any edits.
Have you used the decision matrix or time blocking techniques to help you prioritize tasks and accomplish results? What did you like about these methods? Have you tried any others?