The ability to prioritize and focus on top priority actions first is key in making the difference between being successful and simply being busy.
One useful distinction I have found is the the concept of Urgent vs. Important as presented in Stephen Covey’s book ‘7 habits of highly effective people’.
Even just the awareness of how much time we are spending in each quadrant is already very useful. I suggest you try it for a day or two… carry a notepad and note down how much time you are spending in each quadrant. It can be quite surprising!
Once we have cultivated mindfulness of how much time we are spending in each quadrant, the next step is to ask:
- What is it that has me continue to spend my time in quadrants 4 and 3?
- How can I schedule time each week for actions that are important and not urgent (Quadrant 2)?
What I notice is that the more time I spend in quadrant 2 (Important, Not Urgent) the less urgent tasks I tend to have…. it’s a virtuous cycle! The more I think ahead and focus my time on important tasks, the less last minute emergencies seem to arise.
One objection to this the I have experienced both from my own ‘monkey mind’ and from my clients is this idea that ‘I’m more efficient when I’m rushing to do an urgent task’ or ‘I enjoy the adrenaline rush of doing things at the last minute’. The thing is, as with all good falecies, this is partially true. There are two things going on here:
- Addiction to that dopamin/adrenalin hit: We condition ourselves to perform under stress and our brain come to crave that hit.
- Focus! The only reason we are more ‘efficient’ when doing something at the last minute (aka something urgent) is that we are actually focused!
There is no such thing a multitasking. I repeat, There Is No Such Thing As Multitasking. Our brain can only actually focus our conscious attention on one thing at a time. Every time we switch our focus, there is a price to pay in terms of mental energy. When we ‘multitask’, what we are actually doing is just rapidly switching back and forth between tasks.
When we are rushing to finish a task at the last minute, we may be more efficient, but it has nothing to do with doing it last minute per se, and everything to do with focusing on one task at a time.
So… give it a try.
Just for a day, make yourself a list of 3-5 things you want to get done, place them in order of priority. To determine the order of priority, ask yourself: ‘If for some reason this was the only thing I actually got done today, would I be satisfied with my day?’
Focus on one task at a time and do not move on to the next task until it is done!
May the force be with you!