- Posted by Gavin Pommernelle
- On May 7, 2013
How stressed are you at work? Are you keeping up with all your family demands?
Yes, it’s time to look at prioritization and time management – again. I hear it daily from friends, clients and family members. You know you’ll feel so much better when you get control of your priorities but you also know how this story normally ends.
The tools are well known and effective. The key ingredient that is normally forgotten is commitment – commitment to consistently use tools to evaluate all demands on your time.
A quick review of the tools
The first tool helps you to identify and rank the priorities on that ‘to do’ list that you’re growing. Stephen Covey defined “The Urgent/Important Matrix” in his 1994 book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Your priorities reflect the impact an activity has on your goals (importance) and how urgent they are. Goals can be business or personal. The higher the impact and the more urgent they are the higher priority they are given. The goal is to minimize the number of priorities that are urgent giving you greater control.
The second tool allocates your fixed amount of time to these priorities in a systematic manner. This starts making time for the higher priorities (your big rocks) before you fit in lower priorities (your pebbles and sand). Stephen Covey introduced this concept of “fitting your big rocks in the jar” many years ago. Here is a video where you can see him demonstrate it. This is time management and is how we use this fixed amount of time in a more efficient manner. As you continue to read this article you will start to decide what goes into your jar.
Let’s build your plan together now in 5 simple steps
Step 1 – List all the things you need to do today
I expect that this was fairly simple to do. Does it feel overwhelming? Do you think you can get it all done? You know that you will need to prioritize these. Rather than doing this based on what others expect of you or procrastinating let’s start making more considered choices.
Step 2 – Determine the importance of each item on your list
This is based on your goals. You decide what your goals are – they could be very personal; they may be business or career goals; they may be family goals.
Importance reflects the impact a task has on your goals. The larger the impact and the more direct the impact, the more important that becomes.
Your rewritten list should now show the items ranked in order of importance from highest to lowest.
Step 3 – Rank the urgency of each item in a second list
Urgency reflects the level of attention demanded by each item. This attention can be self imposed (e.g. we have a preferred schedule or it’s part of a deadline we have set) or they can be imposed by others (e.g. you have to pick your child up from school at a set time or your boss has scheduled a meeting at a specific time). As you do this, what items showing as urgent could you make less urgent by making a change: rescheduling, delegating, pre-planning so that it’s not at the last minute, etc?
Step 4 – Combine your importance ranking with your urgency ranking in a matrix
Draw an empty version of the matrix in Fig. 1 below onto a piece a paper and transfer the ranking of your 2 lists to this. You now have a visual showing which of the four quadrants your tasks fall within. Each quadrant has a level of priority and reflects the size of the “stones” you will want to get into your time jar.
Fig. 1 – How to interpret and use the Importance / Urgency Matrix
Step 5 – Allocate your time according to your completed matrix
Start by allocating time to the items in quadrant 1 and 2 – those with a higher priority. The fewer urgent items you have the less stressed you will be. You achieve fewer urgent items by getting rid of things that are urgent but not important and being more pro-active in those that are important.
How do you feel about the outcome for your day now? Do you feel more in control? Are you clearer about what you need to do first? Now imagine how you will feel if you do this a week in advance. You will have more opportunities to make many urgent items less so. You will be able to more time to allocate to those important items that have the biggest impact on your goals.
Be committed to the process
Now you’ve determined today’s priorities, your challenge is to stick to them.
This doesn’t mean your priorities are fixed, that crises or new priorities won’t come up. It means you need to be strong enough to keep non-priority tasks from taking over again. You will need to say “no” to others from time to time.
These tools are simple and if used consistently, you will avoid being overwhelmed and stressed. With practice you will automatically and quickly evaluate all demands on your time with two simple questions – “Is it urgent? Is it Important?”
I work worldwide with leaders and leadership teams in businesses experiencing changes in management, business direction or complexity. The way they lead their people is a critical and significant value creator and sustainable driver of their success.
Guiding leaders and teams using executive coaching, talent assessment and practical talent management tools brings real results.