Operations & Capacity
What do you do when everything is urgent and important and you can’t seem to get ahead of your to-do list? Let’s talk about time management.
Rather than managing our tasks, responsibilities, and time commitments, WE are the ones being managed.
Everything is urgent. Everything is important. And we cannot seem to get ahead of our to-do lists.
In this article, I'm going to talk about some simple tips and tricks to help you get more time back in your day and regain a sense of control over your work life.
Let’s start with The Eisenhower Matrix.
Made famous by Stephen Covey, the Eisenhower Matrix is a helpful method to prioritize your tasks. The matrix consists of four quadrants.
Quadrant 1: Urgent and important things
Quadrant 2: Not urgent, but important things
Quadrant 3: Not important, but urgent things
Quadrant 4: Not important and not urgent things
The problem is, we end up always living in Quadrant 1.
Which quadrant do you live in? Are the majority of your tasks in one of these quadrants or are you more of a combination?
The goal quadrant, or the sweet spot, is to live in Quadrant 2.
In order to do this, we have to optimize three things: our What, How, and When.
The first thing you really need to optimize is your What.
You actually need to change what you’re doing before you can change your When and How.
A really helpful tool for optimizing your What is finding your zone of genius.
Your zone of genius encompasses all the things you do that you’re both good at and are energizing for you.
Your wheelhouse, your area of expertise, things that are up your alley.
For example, when I give webinars, I leave them more energized than when I started. I'm both good at them and they energize me. So webinars are in my zone of genius.
Here are a few tools you can use to get a better sense of your zone of genius:
I use these three buckets to break down my to-do list and further optimize my What. Make a list of everything that ends up on your plate and categorize each task into one of the following...
Bucket 1: Things that are in your zone of genius
Bucket 2: You can do it, but it doesn’t energize you
Bucket 3: Not your forte, you're either not good at these tasks or they’re draining to you
After you’ve put all of your tasks in one of these three buckets, we're going to work backwards.
We're going to take buckets 2 and 3 (the things that you can do, but don't energize you and the things that are not your forte) and we're going to start getting them off your plate.
This is the big hack. You actually have to do less to get out of Quadrant 1. Doing everything slows you down and keeps you focused solely on the urgent.
It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more things you put on your plate in an effort to get out of Quadrant 1 actually keeps you in Quadrant 1.
So let’s talk about where we can put those tasks in buckets 2 and 3.
First of all, those things in bucket 3, those things that are not your forte? These must go at almost any cost.
If you're bad at something, it's probably better that it doesn't get done at all than for you to do it and be bad at it. Especially if you're already over capacity in your organization.
I would like to give you a gift. This is a fireproof trash can. You can put something in there and when everybody says, "oh hey, there's a fire over there" you can say, "yep, it's under control, I'm just letting it burn itself out.”
Let it go.
The next thing you can do, if you CAN’T just not do it, is to delegate it.
Delegating means getting somebody else to do it for you. Take those leftover things in buckets 2 and 3 and pass them off.
One of the things in bucket 2 for me was following up with people. I just don't love following up with people, but someone has to do it. So I hired an assistant who loves following up with people and she helps me get that done.
I took something that's in my bucket 3 and delegated it to somebody who would categorize that task in their zone of genius bucket.
That’s a pretty good trade.
Whatever tasks are left on your plate should either be in your zone of genius or something that you can do, but doesn’t energize you. Now it’s time to optimize your How.
We’re going to systematize, automate, and simplify to improve these tasks.
Now, systematizing doesn't have to be automation, but automation is a great way to systematize something.
I used to spend a fair amount of time filing my paperwork. I work from home and my team is remote so I get the mail and am the only one who can do this task. It’s definitely not my zone of genius, and it doesn't really bring that much value.
So I simplified my filing system so that I only had three folders to put things into: bank accounts, bills and statements, and all other documents. By simplifying my routine I cut my filing time down to just a few minutes.
A technological example would be to use automation. Tools like Zapier can take so much off your plate by automatically doing things that you spend time doing yourself.
I use a tool called Cloze, which helps me (and my assistant) manage my email and follow up with people. It saves me a ton of time and energy because it's reminding me of those things, which also gives me peace of mind that nothing is falling through the cracks.
One thing to remember when creating automations is that if you automate a mistake, you're going to amplify your mistake. So be sure and double check your work!
After optimizing your how, you should now be feeling like you have a little more time in your day.
We’ve optimized what we're doing and how we're doing it. Now we need to talk about when we work.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to theme my weeks. You can generally categorize your tasks and choose a day of the week to complete one of the categories.
Let's say Monday you provide support to your team. Tuesdays could be talking with stakeholders. Wednesdays could be client meetings. Whatever theme or category that makes sense for you, just assign it to a specific day of the week.
A similar concept is to theme your days. Mornings could be for meetings, afternoons for project time. Whatever blocks you need, put them in your calendar. Just don’t put too many in one day. Give yourself larger chunks of time so you can really devote your mental energy and get in a groove.
This is also helpful to avoid something that I can guarantee is eating away at your precious time. Multitasking.
This is such a hard habit for people to break, but you have got to stop multitasking.
You are losing hours every single day by multitasking.
40% of your thinking ability goes into switching from one task to another. This means if you reduce the number of times you switch tasks, you could get up to 40% of your day back.
Over the course of a year, 40% turns out to be 31 weeks. Imagine what you could do with all of that time!
In the US economy that equates to 650 billion dollars. That's the cost of all those interruptions.
Multitasking makes everything take longer and it makes you less good at what you’re working on. You're more likely to make mistakes and you’re going to get less done.
Email is one of the biggest ways multitasking sneaks in. Try checking your email once in the morning and again at one o'clock and that's it.
If people are trying to emergency their way into your inbox, set a boundary and determine the pace. If it's a true life or death emergency, you can create a specific way to reach you in that scenario.
All that being said, just put less on your plate. Finish your task completely, and then move on to the next thing.
At this point you should have some great ideas on how to optimize your what, how, and when and get some more time back in your day.
If you need some extra help or guidance on ways to get out of Quadrant 1, I’d love to chat.
You can also download my Accountability Optimizer. It's designed to help you optimize your What, How, and When and you can get it working for you in as little as 10 minutes, even if you don’t have anyone to delegate to.
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