Half the battle is knowing what not to focus on. In this video, Dorie breaks it down using, in part, Covey's famous urgent/important matrix.
- In the modern workplace, there's no shortage of things to focus on. Business is going on 24 hours a day around the world and there are an infinite number of projects you could be working on. So how do you decide the priorities for you and your team? And maybe even harder, how do you rule out what's not a priority? One extremely useful framework comes from former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, and it's known as the Eisenhower matrix. It was also popularized by Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of High Effective People. It goes like this. Tasks are classified as either urgent or not urgent and important or not important. That's it, and yet mapping them out that way can be tremendously revealing. Obviously, if something isn't urgent and it isn't important, it's kind of self evident that you shouldn't spend much time on it. You could probably even eliminate it. And if it's urgent and important, the business equivalent of your bathtub overflowing and flooding your apartment, you are definitely going to take action ASAP. But the tricky part comes in the other two categories. When we're tempted to spend our time or our team's time on items that aren't really important, but seem urgent, we can be conflicted. We have to respond to those emails. People are waiting. Sometimes, yes, but often, we focus on responding to email rather than doing what the author Cal Newport calls deep work. The kind of sustained, focus work that gets you and your team noticed because it moves the ball forward in a meaningful way. So for the vast majority of things in the not important but urgent category, folks can generally wait or you can delegate the work. The final category, work that isn't urgent, but is important is what gets neglected time and again in corporate life. If you can buck that trend and redirect your team's efforts away from a rapid response, fire drill mentality, and instead make sure they know it's important and spend their time making progress on longer term projects that truly help the company and the division, you and they will stand out. So how do you know what's important? Here are a few ways to gauge. First, think about the areas that matter most to your boss, to your clients, and to the business as a whole. That's often a very clear signal. A second valuable place to prioritize is fixing bottlenecks. If there's a particular element that always seems to hold everything else up, whether it's a complicated process or a piece of infrastructure that hasn't been tended to in a long time, moving that to the front of the line is likely to dramatically speed everything else up, maximizing your productivity. My colleague, Glen Johnson, likes to ask what's the key issue? What's the issue that, if you moved that forward, would then move everything else forward? Answering that can field great results. It's also worth looking at the areas where your team or your department is the furthest behind. That may indicate that you need to pay special attention to that initiative for a while and figure out what's been holding it up. And finally, a worthy priority of the important, but not urgent variety is this. Creating backups and safeguards in your processes. It's not sexy and it's never urgent until there's a catastrophe, so most often, it doesn't get done, but if you really want to do your company a service, stake out time for your team members to create backup plans and systems in case things go wrong or if there are even just minor disruptions. By answering these questions, you can begin to get a clear sense of what you and your team should prioritize and what you can move to the back burner.