First Things First
Last week was Labor Day which meant a day off of work for many of us. Long weekends are exciting, but short weeks tend to overwhelm me. There is just as much to do, with one less day to get it done. When time is short, choosing the right thing to work on first is even more important.
"There's so much to do that I don't even know where to start!" How many times have you said that? I'm here to help! Not because I'm the expert, but because I've faltered and failed enough times to find a better way.
Gary Keller suggests in his book The One Thing that we ask ourselves this question over and over, "What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” In the past, I thought that checking several things off of my to do list was better than completing one task - even if that one task was more important or urgent.
In fact, doing less, can help us accomplish more in the long run. Keller says, “Until my ONE Thing is done — everything else is a distraction.” Distractions are everywhere - email anyone?? Read the last post about the No Email Hour to help avoid that trap! Once you figure out what that ONE thing is, focus on it, and accomplish it, you repeat the process over and over! The hard part is determining what that ONE thing is.
Experts often point to the Eisenhower Matrix of urgent and important tasks. This matrix is named after the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was experienced at prioritizing while he was a general in the US Army and the Allied Forces Supreme Commander in World War II. He suggested identifying the urgency and importance of a task to determine what to do first. An urgent task is one that is compelling or requires immediate action or attention. An important task is one that is of great significance or value. If a task is both important and urgent, that puts it in the "do first" quadrant. A task that is important, but not urgent should be scheduled for a later time while a task that is urgent but less important can be delegated to someone else. Finally, if a task is not urgent and not important, this is something that likely not even do at all!
The Eisenhower matrix is a great framework to help sort out your tasks, but I would suggest a little twist to increase productivity even more using this simple order.
A busy day at home is the perfect opportunity to apply these steps. Let's say you have a sink full of dirty dishes, 2 loads of laundry to do, a doctor appointment to schedule, and uncomfortable email to send, cookies to bake for an event, kids to take to and from sports practice, and a few things to pick up at the store. Here's how the 4 steps above can help you be productive.
"It's super easy to check something off your list when you don't even have to do it!"
First you should look for an opportunity to delegate. If you can completely delegate a task, that's an easy win, but even if you can delegate only a step in the process, that can free you up to work on something else at the same time. If you have kids, there are plenty of ways they can help like unloading the clean dishes from the dishwasher, sorting laundry or even starting a load.
"Do one or more steps of a task, and the rest happens automatically!"
You have several automations already created for you in your day. In our busy day example, your dishwasher and clothes washer and dryer automate some of your tasks. Automations do require prep work. You have to empty the dishwasher of clean dishes and load it with dirty dishes before you can start it. You have to gather and sort your laundry, put a load in the washer with detergent before you can start the washer. Once you get your machines working for you, you can complete other tasks while your dishes and clothes are getting clean - in this example, scheduling that doctor appointment.
It is important to get automated tasks going before you do other tasks. If you waited until late in the day to start the laundry, the automation doesn't buy you as much time as if you start it early in the day. You may need to revisit your automated processes from time to time (like switching the clothes from the washer to the dryer in order to start a new load)
"A big, scary task looming over you will hinder your productivity the rest of the day - just do it!"
Now that you've got others working for you (delegation) and your machines working for you (automation), it's time to remove the stress. There may be one task on your list that has been causing you anxiety or stress. If you put it off, you may be focusing on it instead of other tasks throughout the day. By getting it out of the way, you will better be able to focus later. In our example, that uncomfortable email may be a source of stress. While your machines are working for you, take the time to just do it!
"Be aware of cause and effect, and think downstream."
Finally consider dependencies in tasks. You still need to take kids to and from sports practices, make cookies, and go to the store. The kids' practice is dependent on a specific time. It's scheduled, so you can't do it before the time it occurs. Since you'll be away from home during the drive to and from practice, and you probably shouldn't leave the house with your oven on, you either have to get the cookies finished before you leave, have enough time to bake the batches while practice is in session, or not start until you return home from pickup. You don't have any chocolate chips, so you can't make chocolate chip cookies until you've been to the store. Now that you've thought through all of your to-do's, you can determine the best order to complete your tasks in.
By using these 4 steps along with the principles of the Eisenhower matrix, you will be able to choose to put first things first and become the most productive version of yourself!
Keller, Gary. The One Thing: the Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. John Murray Press, 2019.
“The Eisenhower Matrix: Introduction & 3-Minute Video Tutorial.” Eisenhower, 2017, www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/.
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