Stephen Covey is the hero who moved time management from the single criteria of efficiency, to the two dimensional matrix of urgency and importance.
Using his model helps us to reorder our to do lists into priority tasks to be tackled for the day.
More recently a few other authors added another dimension – significance, and with this they claim, you can add more time to your day.
Covey’s model is useful in that you look beyond the urgent and consider what is important – stuff that matters most. His video explaining the concept – is worth watching if you have not seen it. For me it offers a basic lesson about thinking what is important in your life, consciously. And making time to attend to those things first, before your time is swallowed up by urgent but not always important tasks.
The problem is that this matrix only allows for changing around items on your to do list with some items never making it to the top, yet they don’t drop off. In my case jumping between different tools, I seldom clean up a list and like the green gravel in the video, the little small unimportant things, stay on the list and cause me stress. There is nothing better than a tick on Wunderlist, the sound of the bell and the item disappearing.
In Rory Vaden’s book “Procrastinate on Purpose”, he explains the third dimension called “significance”. With this dimension, you take into account what you can do today, to make tomorrow better. Essentially, you make more time tomorrow or as he puts it: “You multiply time by giving yourself permission to spend time on things today that will give you more time tomorrow.”
Vaden proposes a funnel approach to think through each task. Watch him talk through the funnel here.
The action for each task is determined by the asking these questions:
- Eliminate Can this item be removed? Is it necessary for anyone to do this?
- Automate What can you automate? There are so many apps and tools available, if you spend 30 min setting up for example calendar integrations, you can email a link with 3 available slot in seconds next time you need to schedule an appointment.
- Delegate Are you the best person to do this task going forward? Can you teach someone else to do this? You might need to invest time to train and guide someone else, but this can save your time going forward.
- Now or later Should I do this now or can it wait to later. If you come to the conclusion that it should be done now, allocate focused time to get it done. If the answer is not now, then you “procrastinate” by choice, and the task goes back to the top of the funnel for another round through the options.
The model aims to increase the return on your time invested. Similar to the effect of compounded interest on growing your wealth, and increasing your ROI, the time invested will create time for you tomorrow.
Brian Tracy, author of “Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time”, has other practical advise:
Have a clear goal/ vision – all your tasks should support one of your goals. It gives you a framework to evaluate your tasks.
Plan your day – look at the things you have to do and follow Vaden’s funnel approach to decide what stays and what is either eliminated, automated or delegated.
Eat the frog first – where frogs refer to the vital tasks, the 20% that will make the 80% impact. Linking it to Vaden’s model, the “frog” will be the task that made it through all the questions and should be done now. It might not be your favorite, but get it done first.
Unplug from technology to minimize distractions. There is nothing like the audible/ visible flow of email/ social media messages to take your mind off the task at hand. And according to Tracy, if you can on a task it will take only half the time to complete.
Schedule time to focus on your larger tasks. As you would schedule and diligently attend an important conversation, schedule your most important tasks.
The above tips and tools can certainly help you focus your “busyness” to get traction on and achieve your goals, provided you are clear on what you want to achieve. Not knowing where you want to go, will always be a road to nowhere.