If you have a to-do-list, then there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the problems that occur when your list becomes overloaded!
When this happens, it can be difficult to identify which tasks are the most important, and which ones will have to wait. This makes it difficult to focus solely on one task at a time, which often leaves us distracted, stressed, and frustrated, and accomplishing things much less efficiently than normal.
To prevent task overload, it’s important to find a way to prioritize. By having a system that helps you to easily focus on, and accomplish the most important tasks first, you will be able to easily prioritize, and will be less stressed and more productive as a result.
A popular way that many are using to prioritize their tasks comes from Stephen Covey, of the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s most famous concept is that of his time management matrix which breaks tasks into four categories.
Let’s take a look at this system for prioritizing, and see if there are any helpful tips that you can use to steal back some valuable time!
The Four Types of Tasks
The first thing to note is that urgency and importance are two separate things. The key is to try to prevent important tasks from becoming urgent. While we all know that last minute deadlines can and do creep up, for the most part, many tasks are able to be tackled –before they become urgent. Here’s the quadrant from Stephen Covey. Take a look:
Important and Not Urgent
Ideally, this is the category that you should spend the most time on. By tackling important tasks that are important before they become urgent, you’ll be able to prevent the amount of high-stress, rushed-for-time tasks that pile up. This section includes things like preparation, prevention, relationship building, and more. The key action for tasks in this category is: Focus.
Important and Urgent
The important and urgent category should be reserved for true emergencies. However, failing to complete important tasks ahead of time will push those tasks into this category as well. The goal is to tackle important tasks –before they become urgent with pressing deadlines. Your key action for tasks in this section is: Manage.
Not Important and Urgent
Phone calls, emails, meetings, and other issues that are pressing –but not as important or urgent as other tasks or deadlines. The key action for tasks in this section is: Use Caution or Avoid.
Not Important and Not Urgent
Non-important, non-urgent tasks can be things such as watching TV, checking your social media sites, and other free time tasks. Obviously, tasks in this category should be put off until the more important ones are done! Key action: Avoid.
To help you tackle tasks and prioritize, make a list of your day-to-day activities, and then categorize them. Which category do you spend most of your time on each day?
The goal when using this system is to be able to prioritize so that most of your time will be spent on tasks that are important –but not urgent. This will help to give you a clear direction on which tasks should be finished first and help to prevent tasks from turning into last minute emergencies.
In the beginning you may have to spend time on the tasks that are both important and urgent, putting out fires, but overtime you will be able to work your way out of being in crisis mode.
Of course, this is just one system for time management. For some, this system would be less than effective because –depending on your career, life commitments, etc., you may operate on a system where deadlines are last minute, and that’s simply inevitable.
But for others, those of us who don’t often have immediately impending deadlines thrown our way, this system allows us to get into the habit of prioritizing, and can help us to get out of the crisis zone. The key is to prevent last minute deadlines –whenever possible.
What about you? Do you have any time management tips to share with us? Let us know how you prioritize. And don’t forget to check out Day Designer –the day planner that makes time management simple, and fun! This day planner allows you to intentionally map out your day, helping you to live a life that’s as fulfilling as you want it to be. Download a free sample page and try it today!