If You Want to Ship Amazing Work You Need to Prioritize

In any given day you have a number of tasks that could be done. They fall into one of a number of buckets. Most systems give you 4 different options. The four below are called an Eisenhower Matrix.

  1. Urgent and important
  2. Important, but not urgent
  3. Urgent, but not important
  4. Neither urgent nor important

The first list is comprised of things that are urgent and have to be done. Usually these things have to be done today, like that blog post you need to write so it can be published. If you don’t write that blog post your marketing will be harmed. You’ll lose your momentum on publishing, letting your readers down. It will be much harder to continue once you loose momentum.

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The second item consists of things that are important but not urgent. These things won’t have immediate bad effects if you don’t do them. Your exercise routine could fall in here. Missing a single day won’t harm you, though missing it all the time will harm your health.

The third list is made up of items that should be delegated. These are the interruptions that might seem useful, but produce little of value and continue to eat away at our day. I use Acuity to delegate the booking of my appointments. All I need to do is send a link and stick firmly to the stand that if there is nothing on the list that suits you, we can’t work out a meeting. Email easily falls into this quadrant as well, plus responding to an email is an easy dopamine hit because we “completed” something.

The final list is a bunch of things that we probably shouldn’t even be keeping track of anyway, because it’s crap we should delete. Stuff like watching TV or checking in on social media. They don’t push our goals forward so much as suck up time.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, uses a similar matrix but instead of saying that your main priorities should be in Quadrant I (urgent and important) he councils you to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II.

For most people that urgent and important easily overwhelm the day, and continue to overwhelm the day. They get stuck in crisis mode, dealing with continual challenges instead of doing the Quadrant II activities which while they aren’t urgent often provide long term huge benefits.

The one question I see missed when people talk about these matrices is “What is the ONE thing that I can do today that will make the rest of my work easy or irrelevant?”. Asking yourself this single question should yield only one answer which fits with your single top item.

If you’re not careful it will be a Quadrant I activity because it feels like it’s overwhelming and thus important for the long term of your work. The two key words to focus on are easy or irrelevant. This is how you figure out that the client project can wait for a day because that video course will bring in long term income and new clients without more push marketing activities. That video course or book is a Quadrant II item. It’s important, probably more important than your other items, but it’s not urgent so it will often get pushed to the back burner.

Whatever task management system you use, you must make sure that you’re always asking yourself:

“What is the ONE thing that I can do with my available resources that will make the rest of my work easy or irrelevant?”

Your task system needs to be able to filter out the noise so that you can only focus on that single project that will provide the most long term value to you. Sure it can keep track of the rest of the crap, but it should easily fade into the background as you focus on the main task with the highest long term value.

If you can ask yourself that question and keep doing those tasks you will start to see forward progress in your work.

Actions

  1. Take a minute and write down what the single project is that will make the rest of your work easy or irrelevant.

Photo by: isherwoodchris

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