The Joy of Getting the Most Important Things Done - On Time
Do you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with? That question always gets a big laugh in my career strategy workshops where improving time management is a top priority for participants. Despite that desire, taking control of how they spend their time remains an elusive goal for even highly accomplished professionals. Escaping the tyranny of the to-do list once and for all requires a fresh, vision-driven, strategic, and organized approach.
Managing your time effectively begins with the realization that you are unlikely to ever complete every task on your list. Once you accept that fact, you will see how critical it is to set priorities.
First Things First
Many people find a visual representation of what’s on their list very helpful in determining what they should tackle first. The Importance/Urgency Matrix is a simple tool that works well for this purpose.
Try plotting each item on the grid above. The closer to the upper left corner of the grid you place an item, the sooner you will likely want to complete it as it is both urgent and important. Items on the bottom right – neither important nor urgent – belong on your not-to-do list. You will want to be sure you address all important items, urgent or not.
My Latest HBR Article: Taming the Epic To-Do List
The to-do list can be an indispensable tool when used to mindfully manage your time. But used indiscriminately, you become its servant. The first step in making your list work for you is to be clear on what job you’re “hiring” it to do. Most of us fail to do this, and so our lists are crammed with urgent priorities we must get done immediately (send revised slides to client), important tasks we’re afraid of forgetting because they have no specific due date (book a vacation), and basic tasks that we add to the list because it makes us feel good to check something off (order more pens — done!). Then day after day, we check off the basic items, get the urgent things done (which we probably would have done even were they not on a list) and procrastinate on the other items.
To avoid this problem, I use three lists and a calendar. Each has its own specific function. Specifically, List #1 is for important but non-time-sensitive projects. List #2 is for items that need to be completed today. If I can’t complete the task immediately as it arises, I will record it knowing that I am committing to completing everything on that list before leaving the office for the day.
“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”
― Ecclesiastes 11:4