“You often see people who appear to be busy all day long but seem to accomplish very little. This is almost always because they are busy working on tasks that are of low value while they are procrastinating on the one or two activities that could make a real difference to their companies and to their careers.” ~ Brian Tracy
You Can’t Do It All
You have more to do than you can get done. The pace of life is increasing and the demands on your time and energy are growing. Reports to write. E-mails to respond to. Groceries to buy. An exercise regimen to follow. Clients to call. Dishes to wash. Books to read. Children to care for. Phone calls to return. Customer complaints to address. A spouse to spend time with. Oh, and selfies to upload and Facebook posts to like and comment on.
There is a way to get more done. In fact, I am sharing 5 ways. But first a disclaimer. These are not ways to do more and more of everything; to be even busier and more efficient. Instead, I encourage you to simplify your tasks to be sure you are doing the important stuff. It’s possible to get so caught up in the action that you lose sight of the big picture. What I want us to explore are ways to be sure that you are focusing on the tasks that are meaningful to you, that move you ahead toward your goals and toward your well-being. To do that, you must realize that you probably can’t do everything coming at you. You’ll need to have a method to weed out everything but the activities that bring you the biggest return on your time and energy. Here are 5 ways.
The 5 Ways
1. Eliminate. Decide what you can drop or ignore.
2. Prioritize. Decide on your most important task.
3. The Pareto Principle. 20% of your activities account for 80% of your results.
4. Work in QII. Focus on the Important but not Urgent.
5. The countdown method. 5-4-3-2-1 – Action!
The first step in simplifying your list of activities, tasks and chores is to decide what you can drop or ignore. Some things may have seemed important at the time they came up, but are not important now. Some items may have been time-sensitive and the deadline is now past. If you have any entries like this on your list or in your head, eliminate them now. You probably won’t do them and you may not even need to do them at this point.
Incidentally, I know of some highly productive individuals who never answer e-mails right away. Usually, when they wait a few hours or even a day, seemingly urgent matters resolve themselves or are resolved by others. The remaining entries are the things they are best suited to deal with. This allows these individuals to eliminate much of the “noise” with little effort.
One of the keys of productivity is to work on your most important task first. If you don’t know what that is, you may be doing things hit or miss.
At work, if you don’t know the priority of your tasks and objectives, you should have a conversation with your manager to clarify priorities and expectations. Once you know, then you can make a habit of always working on your most important task first and sticking with it until it is finished.
In your personal life, you must decide what your priorities are. If you need help, try the tool “A Prioritizing Technique” from TheExceleratedLife.com. Again, once you know what your most important task or activity is, you can concentrate on it. This is an effective method to simplify your list of activities and to ensure that you are spending time and effort on the things that are important to you.
Work in QII
We recently reviewed Dr. Stephen Covey’s “Time Management Matrix” from the book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.
Recall that, in this matrix, there are 2 rows and 2 columns. The left column is labeled “Urgent”, the right column is “Not urgent”. The bottom row is labeled “Unimportant” and the top row is “Important”.
The upper left quadrant (QI) is both Urgent and Important. The upper right quadrant (QII) is Important but not Urgent. The lower left quadrant (QIII) is Urgent but not Important. And the lower right quadrant (QIV) is not Urgent and not Important.
You will do QI tasks; otherwise, your life and work will come crashing in on you. The trick is to also focus on your QII tasks – those things that are Important but not Urgent. This is likely where some of your priority items live but since they are not “in your face” like Urgent tasks (be they Important or not Important), you may tend to overlook them or to put them off.
To simplify, eliminate all your QIV (neither Urgent nor Important) activities and as much of the QIII (Urgent but not Important) as you can. Then you can focus on QI and QII.
“The 80/20 Principle . . . can help individuals and groups achieve much more, with much less effort. The 80/20 Principle can raise personal effectiveness and happiness.” ~ Richard Koch [Koch]
Also known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule states that 20% of your efforts lead to 80% of results. This has been shown to be true in many areas: 20% of customers account for 80% of sales. And 20% of customers account for 80% of complaints. 20% of our streets contain 80% of the traffic.
Of course,it isn’t always an even 80/20 split. The point is that a few (and sometimes only 1) inputs or causes lead to the majority of the outcomes or results. Your job is to determine which of your efforts lead to the biggest chunk of the results you achieve, and then focus on them. You cannot do everything so you must do the most important thing. Use the 80/20 rule to help simplify and eliminate all but those tasks which bring the largest results.
The countdown method
The countdown method is not so much about eliminating tasks as it is about getting started on whatever activity you have chosen – a way to eliminate procrastination, if you will.
Mel Robbins developed (or discovered) the countdown method . She defines and explains it in her book, The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage. The gist of the 5 Second Rule is this: “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.” [Robbins]
The basic rule is this: When you have an action to perform, don’t spend much time thinking about it. Go into countdown mode. “5 – 4 -3 – 2- 1 – GO!” And make a move. Take some kind of action. You must physically move to implement the countdown method.
Let’s say you have a great idea for a book you want to write “some day”. You think about it nearly every day. You’ve even jotted down some notes. You want to develop an outline and start organizing your material but you can’t get started. The next time it pops into your head — or even better, make an appointment with yourself to do this — use the 5 second rule. Count down . . . 5 – 4 – 3 -2 -1 – GO! and immediately take an action to start your outline. Open a folder on your computer or take out a pad of paper and a pen and start writing. Start getting your ideas on paper.
This takes your brain (and especially the amygdala, the seat of emotions including fear and doubt) out of the process. The brain is keeping you “safe” from scary changes. By acting, you override the tendency to give in to these emotions. By acting, you get on with the task at hand.
1. Get everything down on paper. Get the things you have to do and want to do out of your head and written down.
2. Go through the list and quickly eliminate everything that is no longer relevant or that has a deadline in the past.
3. Prioritize the remaining items. Use the 80/20 rule to identify the few items that will provide the most return on your efforts. Be sure your Quadrant II tasks (the Important but not Urgent ones) are not overlooked.
4. Pick a time to start on your top priority task. If you have trouble getting started, use the 5 second rule to override your brain’s tendency to keep you from changing.
Do The Things That Matter
You can’t do it all. You likely already have more to do than you can possibly get done. The key is to get more done is to always be sure you are working on important tasks that bring the benefits and results you desire. (And remember, these are not always related to work and career. You also want to nurture your relationships and your health — these may be your current priorities.) To help you focus on these, simplify your list of chores, tasks, and activities. Use these suggestions and ideas to get you started in the right direction.
You can’t do it all but you can do the things that matter to you. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life!
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Excelerated simplicity — freeing yourself from unnecessary complexity — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989
Koch, Richard. The 80/20 Principle: The Secret Of Achieving More With Less. New York: The Doubleday Publishing Group, 1998, 2008
Robbins, Mel. The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence With Everyday Courage. Nashville: Savio Republic, 2017
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~ Hans Hofmann