Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and blogs that could help get more things done. But then I realised the reason why I wasn’t getting things done is that I spent more time researching the methods rather than actually doing things. I didn’t have my priorities right.
While researching I came across a method of prioritising which I’ve adopted into my work for a number of years now – and that’s using the Eisenhower Matrix. So let’s talk about how to prioritise your tasks to make you more productive and not just busy.
I made a YouTube video on how to make more time where I spoke about using a todo list as a way of managing your time better and in turn get more out of your day. I want to take that further by talking about how to be more efficient with your time by filtering your long list of things to do. When you’ve got a super long to-do list you may fall into that trap of just looking busy. But busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive.
When I’m working on something I regularly ask myself this simple question, and you should too, – am I being effective or just being busy? Basically, is what I’m doing right now really important?
To answer that question I ask more questions with the aim to filter my work into the right category amongst these four Ds – do, defer, delegate, or drop.
- The first D is, should I do this?
- If not, can I defer it and do it at another time.
- Maybe I can delegate?
- Perhaps just drop it?
I’ll try and do this every task I add to my to-do list. I’ll approach the 4 Ds in reverse order (depending on how you look at it) starting with, drop.
The first thing to do when filtering your work is to start by thinking about the things you shouldn’t do. There’s a famous quote by Steve Jobs that goes:
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”Steve Jobs
It’s obvious, right? When you choose to not do something, you open up time for doing something else that’s more important. You have to be harsh with this step. Drop the things you don’t need, the distractions. This can be hard I know, but very important. When I’m going through my emails I start by deleting so many of them which I know are a waste of time like those newsletters that I don’t remember subscribing to but somehow appear in my inbox. So I do this to condense my inbox to only just the important emails.
If you’ve ever tried to start a business or are running one now you may know how at the beginning business owners want to do everything themselves. However, this is problematic if you’re trying to do something you’re not necessarily skilled at. Wouldn’t it be better to pay someone to build a website for you in a fraction of the time while you focus on more important business needs? But knowing how to delegate effectively is easier said than done. You have to learn to say no, someone else can do this better and quicker than me.
I once worked with a fairly young company which I’ll not disclose the name of for obvious reasons. It always surprised me when the managing director of the company would do graphic designs for the website, posters, ads etc. At that time the company, as I understood, wasn’t as profitable as it used to be. In my opinion, that’s when the director should have been focusing on business functions and increasing profits while someone else handled the graphics.
I too found myself in the same position working on an app business trying to learn how to code while also doing the designs of the app which chewed up so much of my time that I couldn’t even spend enough time with my family. I would code and design but also run the business. Just not sustainable. Of course, I later came to the realisation of getting someone else to do that.
And delegating doesn’t apply to skilled-work only. It’s other things that you know will take up a lot of time in your always busy schedule like cooking and cleaning. So if you can afford to pay someone else to cook and clean for you, do that.
It’s crazy the number of times I’ve put something to the side and when I look at it later it would’ve become obsolete. No longer required. Which goes to show that some of the work we pick to do is not necessary.
The example I gave earlier of handling emails, I do the same for deferring. After I’ve deleted the emails that are not important I put the rest of the emails in a folder I named “READ LATER” and only leave behind the important emails that need my attention right then.
And also deferring some things may help you gather your thoughts. For example, if you have to make an important decision, if you left that decision making for a later time you may find you have a different point of view.
Do you know that phrase that goes “sleep on it”? Apart from the fact that sleep helps clear your mind, organize your memories and process the information of the day, I think deferring some things works in a similar way. But most importantly, not doing certain things now opens up time for you to do the things that require your immediate attention.
After you’ve dropped, delegated and deferred, now it’s time to do. Putting the first things first is one of the habits of highly effective people. When something is urgent and important do it immediately.
But if you’ve come to this point of organising your work and you’re still overwhelmed with a dozen things that are urgent, assuming important as well, it may help sometimes to pick the quick wins amongst the urgent stuff, things you can do in a few minutes just to get that momentum going. It could be that quick email to your customer, client or lecturer that only takes five minutes for a start before moving on to the bigger jobs.
So now you’ve taken away the disruptions and separated the wheat from the chaff, so to say. Now focus. Close the unnecessary web pages, no social media, no phone, no multitasking – it’s a myth (don’t get me started on that).
Using Trello for Prioritising
A great tool I use for task management is Trello. If you’ve never heard of Trello, it’s a Kanban-style list-making app. Check it out, it’s a powerful tool and best of all it’s free. In my opinion, it’s the best task manager app.
On Trello, I use the four D’s we’ve spoken about along with the Eisenhower matrix. This is how the matrix looks like, divided into four quadrants:
On Trello I then add a list for each of those categories. Here are some examples of things to list under each category.
Do – Important & Urgent
These are things you need to do right away, with clear deadlines and consequences.
- Your room is on fire
- Fast approaching assignment deadlines
Delegate – Not Important (but Urgent)
These need to be done but they don’t necessarily require your skill.
- Some meetings
Defer (Schedule these) – Important (but not Urgent)
These activities tend not to have a deadline so they can be easy to procrastinate on. You have to schedule these. They are not necessarily urgent now but have long term benefits.
- Reading lecture notes
Drop – Can Wait
These are distraction which should be avoided or do in moderation.
- Watch TV
- Social media
So that’s the method I use for prioritising my work. How do you go about prioritising your tasks? Let me know in the comments. And also check out my YouTube channel for videos of content like this.