Don’t get me started on to-do lists. These things seem like a great way to get a handle of your daily, weekly, monthly tasks, but in most instances, they get longer and longer and longer… You get the picture.
Depending on your personality type, you might tackle the easy tasks first and let the more complex tasks wait until a later date. Or you may tick things off alphabetically. Or worse still, you might keep adding to the list and never get around to delivering against any of the line items at all.
A personal favourite of mine is the collection of post-it notes on people’s computer screens and desks that have ideas and tasks scribbled on, only to be revisited when the notes make no sense and have no connection with anything you’re working on. We’ve all been there!
The short version of that story is, to-do lists can cause more harm than good unless they are managed correctly.
The feelings and emotions that come with being overwhelmed can be debilitating. One minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re drowning in work and deadlines. Without proper control, this can easily happen and I have experienced this first-hand.
So how do you prioritise?
One of the ways that we regularly share with our clients and their teams, is the use of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.
Eisenhower was a former Supreme Commander of the US military, before embarking on a career in politics and ultimately becoming the 34th President of the USA. In both roles, there were times (likely many) when serious decisions needed to be made, and he used a process that enables a clear way to determine which tasks or activities are urgent and those of which are important.
Top Right (Score 1)
These are tasks that are Very Important and Really Urgent. A task with a deadline that is critical to yours or your company’s future will sit in this box. Mark it with a score of 1 (if you’re keeping it in a list)
Top Left (Score 2)
Tasks that are Very Important but Not Urgent will live in this box. Tasks that will be crucial to your future success, but not time-bound. An example of this may be gaining a specific qualification in order to be able to start working with clients. Mark it with a score of 2.
Bottom Right (Score 3)
You will probably recognise that a lot of your tasks sit here. Here is the good news! You are likely able to delegate, and if you can’t, you will notice that lots of these tasks will be helping others and not yourself, so ask yourself what needs to happen with these activities? Mark it with a score of 3.
Bottom Left (Score 4)
Well, these are the tasks that I mentioned at the top of this page. The tasks that you do quickly as they are easy to get out of the way, but as you can now see, they are not Important nor are they Urgent, so there is a high probability that you can leave them entirely and scrub them off your list. Mark it with a score of 4.
You have your list with scores associated. Focus on doing the tasks with a score of 1 first! Then move down the scores until you gain control of your workload. It will help you handle pressure, and also give you the tools and visibility to delegate, postpone, or delete activities, which will all be of benefit to you.
This matrix can be applied to your career goals, business management, personal objectives and many other situational environments.
Give it a go and see for yourself and good luck in reducing the burden of that ever-growing list!