Manage Your Priorities (Part 1): Eliminate Time-Wasters
In an ever-changing business world that requires leaders and professionals to be more agile, you likely strive to be more productive at work. This often looks like diving into the work that's in front of you and masterfully checking things off your to-do list. At the end of your work day, you feel like you've been busy, but haven't made much progress on moving your important goals forward. You're left wondering:
When bumping up against conflicting tasks, deadlines, and expectations, how do I decide what to do first?
How can I be more proactive with my important work priorities instead of reacting to what or who’s in front of me?
There is a critical starting point for you to improve your productivity at work and become more proactive on how you master your priorities. That starting point is YOU! It requires you to become aware of how you currently use your time and manage your priorities, identify obstacles that get in the way, then implement strategies and new habits to support you.
I believe in learning from people who have experienced greater success. With this in mind, a prioritization tool that I share with my leadership clients to help them shift from being reactive to proactive is called the Eisenhower Matrix. This tool was created by former US President Eisenhower, and popularized by Steven Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
This matrix can help you evaluate your priorities and identify what you need to do first, what can wait awhile, what can others do, and what you can avoid altogether.
The basics of the Eisenhower Matrix is quite simple. You separate your priorities into four key areas by asking these four questions, then take the appropriate action:
- What’s important and urgent? Do these activities first.
- What’s important but not urgent? Schedule these activities.
- What’s urgent but not important? Delegate these activities where possible.
- What’s not urgent and not important? Develop strategies to eliminate these activities.
“What’s important is seldom urgent, and what’s urgent is seldom important.” Dwight Eisenhower
I want to help you immediately gain time to focus on your most important priorities. Therefore, this four part series begins with the end in mind by exploring ways to minimize or eliminate the not urgent and not important – those time-wasting activities that get in the way of your success.
The good news is, that these are the activities that are fully in your control to manage.
When you apply strategies to reduce or eliminate the following seven time-wasters, you will instantly up-level your productivity. You will also have more time available to improve how you manage your priorities within the other three areas of the Eisenhower Matrix.
Distractions - This is the most common time-waster that my leadership clients ask me to help them navigate. A big distraction that competes for your attention and reduces your concentration is notifications (e.g. email, instant messenger, social media and phone calls). These are easy to self-manage by turning them off, unless they are absolutely necessary to your work. Set specific times to check your emails and limit the time you spend on social media. We’ll discuss people-related distractions in Part 2 of this series.
Procrastination – Do you ever catch yourself spending more time chit chatting at the coffee station or de-cluttering your office instead of getting important work done? Are you overwhelmed by where to start or unclear on what to do? If so, try breaking a project into smaller chunks. Set a timer for how long you want to work on it. Commit to not doing anything else until the task is done or you’ve run out of your scheduled time. Unsure what the smaller chunks may look like? Just start with the first step you know you need to do. The next step will reveal itself.
Multi-Tasking – Research continues to show that multi-tasking reduces work quality and slows you down. Want to test this one out yourself? Say your ABC’s as fast as you can. Then, count from 1 to 26 as fast as you can. Now combine them together. Count A1, B2, C3, etc. Much slower, right? And, you likely messed up in a few places – even though you do know your ABC’s and how to count to 26. The key lesson here is to focus on one thing until its done. Or, focus on it during the time you scheduled to work on it that day, and focus on nothing else during that time period.
Poor Use of Technology - Technology is a great working tool and an amazing time suck! It’s up to you to determine the best use of technology for your work and set boundaries and limits for your personal use. Do you find yourself getting sucked into the vortex of social media? Delete the apps from your smart phone for a while. Are you distracted by newsletters or RSS feeds? Delete the ones that are unrelated to your goals. Set an auto-feature to move valuable newsletters to a reading folder that you review at a set date and time. Do you find yourself following a rabbit hole when doing web-based research? Set a time limit for your research to help keep you focused.
Striving for Perfection – Are you overdoing the work that is really needed? I get it, you strive for continuous improvement or you’ve just come up with a really creative idea to incorporate into your presentation that’s 99% done. The reality is that this extra effort may not add more value to the project results or may just slow things down. Reality is, that good enough, is good enough, at least for now. Get crystal clear on what’s absolutely essential for your project or task. Deliver well on that, and be known as someone who gets the job done and improves the next iteration.
Unnecessary Meetings – Do you find yourself attending meetings that have no clear purpose, or only require your input for a few minutes of the meeting? Ask in advance for the purpose of the meeting and when your participation or input is most required in the meeting. Where possible, negotiate for another way to provide the information, send someone else who is better suited for the meeting, or set a specific time on the agenda for you to arrive and depart.
Unnecessary Work – Are you busy busting your butt on projects and tasks that are no longer relevant to your goals? Bust this time-waster by asking yourself for E.V.E.R.Y. task you do: “How is this relevant to my current goals?” This may also require you to bust-through a mindset that leaves you believing you are not relevant to your organization if a task is no longer relevant. Trust me, when you identify irrelevant work and offer to take on work that is more relevant, you increase your relevance to your team. If you struggle in this area, reread that last sentence once more to let its message truly sink in.
TAKE ACTION CHALLENGE
Which one of these time-wasters resonates most with you? Pick one to focus on first. For that time-waster, what do you excel at and struggle with? What one thing will you do to reduce or eliminate that time-waster today? What will you do over the next two weeks? What will you do over the next month?
Are you a leader? Model the way by sharing your strategy with your team, and invite them to identify a time-waster that they want to work on. Create team accountability by checking everyone’s progress at your next monthly team meeting.
Let me know what actions you take and how they increased your productivity and decreased your stress at work. I’d love to hear from you!
Lisa Holden Rovers, MSc, CPHR, PCC, is the Founder of Workplace Matters. Since 2005, Lisa has been coaching entrepreneurs and executives to grow as leaders and spark team cultures that thrive. She’s an award-winning human resources professional and a certified leadership and team coach who is passionate about helping people step into what is possible.
Grow as a Leader and Thrive as a Team!
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