Getting the important stuff done

Great businesses excel in setting goals, creating action plans and then reviewing results. This is a perpetual process: goals, action, refine, repeat. It produces optimum results and is the only way to be a winner in the business world. How many of us apply this kind of system to ourselves? There are too many things to do and it is easy to just feel overwhelmed rather than have a clear system for prioritisation. Without a clear plan, we will just be carried along in no particular direction, day by day, by the seemingly endless and chaotic list of ‘ things to do’. How can we really focus on what is most important when our attention is being demanded from so many different directions at once.

Right now, it is Sunday. Day of rest, right? I am looking around me: the garden has been neglected, the house needs tidying, washing needs to be done, I have family coming for lunch so I need to cook that. None of these things will move me forward towards my own personal goals ( building a business and sustainable income), but I cannot avoid these tasks ( and I do want to spend time with my family). It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the impossible list that we will never get to the end of. These type of tasks always end up at the top of my list and push the more important stuff to the bottom. The best solution is to delegate. This is the standard advice in traditional ‘time management’ books. They were often written by men (sorry men), whose wives take care of all the domestic clutter (kids, shopping, cleaning, cooking) enabling them to focus, almost entirely, on their career. The idea is that they then delegate as many tasks as possible ( usually to their, already over-stretched, wife or PA). Well the trouble with this system is that most of us have no one to delegate to. We are the one ones that others will delegate their tasks to, if we are not careful. I have read dozens of time management books, hoping to find a magic solution that I have missed.

I have found only two systems that are helpful and take account of the huge number of mixed tasks that most of us have to deal with. They are both very simple (which is the only type that is going to work, frankly).

The first one is based on an old fable of how to fit rocks, pebbles, sand and water into a jug. The idea is that the only way it all fits is if you put the rocks in first, then the pebbles, then the sand and finally the water. The rocks represent your most important tasks rather than all the other things that are screaming at you ( eg, steps that will help to build your business). Water represents the least important tasks. Do them last-they have to fit around the bigger things. Each day I take a large Post It note and put it in my diary (I am still a paper-based kind of woman). I write three ‘rocks’ at the top and these are my priority tasks for the day. The rest will have to fit around.

The second technique is the ‘overwhelm list’, which I use when my head is full up with too many tasks that seem impossible. I write every single thing that has to be done, which is currently jamming up my head space, on a big piece of paper. Firstly, I quickly assign each item a R, P, S, W (Rock, Pebble, Sand, Water). I cross off as many water and sand tasks as possible-can’t do it all, so these tasks will have to go. Of the remaining tasks, get rid of anything you can do straight away that is really quick. Schedule the rest in your diary so that you don’t have to think about then until they come up. Highlight 3 rocks and put them in your diary for today/tomorrow, along with a few pebbles to do (but only when you have dealt with the rocks!).

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