A few weeks ago, I published a post about ways to avoid burnout. It turned out to be the most popular post this year. So, I thought I’d do a follow up to talk about getting the most out of the techniques discussed there.
One of the strategies I talked about was using the important / urgent matrix to set priorities. Today, I’ll show you how to make sure those priorities actually get done.
A quick refresher on the method. You can read more about using this approach here.
For every task you have, assign one of four labels:
Urgent and important: These are your top priorities. Work on your planning skills to keep items in this group to a minimum.
Urgent but not important: Delegate it.
Important but not urgent: This is where you need to spend most of your time. This is the work of building the business.
Neither urgent nor important: Don’t do things that end up here.
You will spend most of your time working on the “important” items. These are the things labeled “urgent and important” or “Important but not urgent.”
I usually do this process each week, so that’s the example I’ll use here. For most people, trying to evaluate priorities daily will lead to chaos. Doing this monthly is too infrequent to stay on top of things.
To make sure your important items get done, follow these steps:
- Decide the total number of hours you are going to devote to work this week. At a minimum, you’ll need 10 hours every day to sleep, eat, and attend to basic personal needs. That leaves you with a practical maximum of 98 hours available for work. For me, the ability to focus and work falls off a cliff after about 60 hours, so I rarely work more than that. You need to decide what works for you.
- Look at your list of important items. If you’re anything like me, there will be 3 to 7 items each week. If you have more than 6 or 7, go back and review the list again. You need to be more discriminating about what is important. For weeks where the tasks on your list are big and time-consuming, you’ll have fewer items. There will be times when there is one thing on your list for the week, but for most of us, this is the exception. Weeks where the tasks are smaller will have more items. With some practice, you’ll develop a feel for what is right for you.
- For each item on your final list, estimate the amount of time you need to spend on it. Most people will underestimate the amount of time needed to get things done. so when you’re starting out with this process, add 25% to your estimate. Over time, you will develop a better sense for how long it takes you to get things done.
- Figure out how many available hours you have to work on these tasks. Look at your calendar for the coming week. Add up the time committed to appointments and meetings. Don’t forget any travel time need to get to and from those meetings. To be safe, add a 30 minute buffer to meetings. Subtract that time from the total hours in step 1.
- Multiply the hours from the last step by 0.75. This is the number of hours available to work on your important items. The idea is to leave 25% of your “free” time uncommitted because stuff happens. This 25% is your time to process email, return phone calls, or deal with anything unexpected.
- Compare the available hours from step 5 to the total hours in step 4. Do you have enough time to do all the work on your list? Great. Move on to the next step. If you don’t, drop the least important items until your tasks fit the hours you have available.
- Take each of the items on your list and schedule them on your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself to do each of the items at a specific day and time this week. I suggest making each “appointment” no longer than 90 minutes. For items that need more than 90 minutes, you’ll make more than 1 appointment.
- At the scheduled time, do the work.
I can’t overstate the importance of step 8. For this process to work, you must commit to these appointments with yourself. Treat them as you would a meeting with your most important client or making it your kid’s recital. That means no skipping them or letting something else get scheduled in conflict.
If you follow this process, I guarantee you will accomplish your most important priorities. It will take some self-discipline at first, but it will soon become a habit.