Prioritization will help you do more by doing less.
Not everything is as urgent as it is important.
The Eisenhower matrix will show you what you need to do today, defer to tomorrow, delegate to someone else, or eliminate entirely from your to-do list.
Running your to-do list through this filter will refocus your energy on high-value outputs.
High-value outputs compound and pay dividends.
Let’s be real– your to-do list will never end. If you’ve got any sort of ambition, you’re cursed with a bottomless to-do list. You’re not alone, though. In fact, 41% of of tasks written on to-do lists are never done.
When you think about it, this doesn’t make sense. In 2020 we’ve got more productivity and task management apps than ever before. You’ve got tools like Asana, Trello, Todoist, Basecamp– the list goes on. There’s new tools coming out everyday all promising that they’re the one that’s gonna help you get things done. But at the end of the day we’ve gotta realize that tools are only as good as how we use them.
Asana won’t help us prioritize. Trello won’t help us manage our time.
These tools only exist to help us organize everything we have on the go. A shiny app won’t make a difference in your productivity unless you have a good system for how you choose what gets done and when.
Now, throughout my years of “productivity rabbit hole diving”, I’ve used a lot of different processes and tools. I think I’ve got a pretty solid system now for getting things done and moving projects forward, especially when you have a ton on your plate. So today, I want to open up that process to you and show you how I get things done, juggle a ton of balls, and feel less guilty about not getting certain things done while focusing on high-value tasks.
So if you don’t have your to-do list already; stop reading, go make one, grab it– and once you got your to-do list, let’s do this.
Step 1: Do a Brain Dump
On Sunday night I do a massive brain dump of everything I need to get done and everything I want to get done this week. This is where most people stop, though. Simply creating a massive to-do list for yourself, with no strategy on how to knock those items off, is intimidating.
Here’s one question you can ask yourself to set some order in place: This time next week, where do you want to be?
This act of forward-reflection forces you to consider what must be done today to set yourself up for success tomorrow. If you want XYZ done for next Sunday, what do you need to do on Saturday? Friday? Thursday? So on and so forth. Reverse-engineering your week starts creating a queue of actions for you.
This brain dump is your overarching vision for the week. Now that you have some order to your to-do list, it’s time to filter it even further.
Step 2: Filter By Urgency & Importance
Not everything on your to-do list has the same weight. Most things on your list are important, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. But, not everything on your list is urgent. Using these two filters will help you decide what needs to get done today, tomorrow, later in the week, or not at all.
Grab a pen and follow along for this part. We’re going to label things as “urgent” and as “important.”
Deciding What’s Urgent
For “urgency,” here’s the first question you’re gonna ask yourself:
Is someone waiting on this? Have you promised this to a client, to a co-worker, or to a friend? Does someone else need this thing that you’re working on? If yes, check it off.
Is a project stalled because this isn’t done yet? This thing you’re working on, is someone waiting on it to move a project forward? Does a client need this? Is a team member waiting on your research to build a presentation? If the answer is yes, check it off.
Are you late? Has this been postponed already? Are you behind on this? Have you missed a deadline? If yes, mark it off.
Now if anything on your to-do list two or more checkmarks then I want you to mark that as “highly urgent.” If anything on your to-do list has only one of those boxes checked, mark that as “low urgency.”
Deciding What’s Important
Now the first thing you want to ask yourself is:
If this doesn’t get done will I regret this? Is future you going to wish you had worked on this today?
Will doing this provide compounded benefits? There are a few activities that if done in small bursts over a long period of time yield massive results. Creating content is a great example of an activity that compounds.
As you publish new content week over week, you being building a library of marketing assets. This library starts to work for you as you garner an audience. A blog post you write once can be read multiple times by multiple people. Good content can sell for you without your presence.
If you don’t do this, will there be negative consequences? Will you get backlash from a co-worker? Will you look bad? Will it hurt your reputation? If the answer is yes, mark that off.
Now just like for urgency, with importance we wanna do the same thing. For any tasks that have two or more of those things checked off, label that as “highly important.” For any tasks that have only one of those questions checked off, mark that as “low importance.”
Now that you added these labels of urgent and importance to your to-do list, you can start to see that not every task on your to-do list has the same weight. Some things are obviously more important and more urgent than others.
The next step that we’re gonna take in helping visualize our priorities is what I like to call it, well not me, I didn’t invent it, but some guy named Eisenhower, he invented this matrix.
Now, I never knew this Eisenhower guy, but I think he was productive. I think he got things done because he made this tool and… anyway, here is where we’re gonna start to lay out what we have on our to-do list. Before moving on to Step 3, sketch out a copy of the Eisenhower Matrix for yourself.
Step 3: Visualizing Your Priorities
Beside each task on your to-do list now you have two labels.
- High Urgency or Low Urgency
- High Importance or Low Importance
Plot the items from your to-do list into the matrix according to the two labels you’ve assigned to each task.
These four quadrants act as a queue of actions, telling you what needs to be done today, tomorrow, later in the week, and not at all.
DO – High Urgency, High Importance | Get This Done Today
Items in the Do column are tasks that only you can do. These items are what you do best. Usually, you won’t have items in this quadrant that other members of your team can do better or faster than you.
For example, speaking to the camera and recording videos is something that only I can do. My video editor, Abhav Sidhu, can’t do that for me.
However, video editing is something that I can’t do myself. If I were to try my hand at it, it’d take me way longer to finish than Abhav and I’d do a terrible job at it. Video editing is an item I’d delegate.
DELEGATE – High Urgency, Low Importance | Get This Done Tomorrow
With delegation, a good criteria to look at is “who can do this that’s more effective at this than I am?” Video editing is a great example for me, personally. But I know that not everyone has a team that they can delegate to if you’re a student or a solopreneur.
You can also look at delegation as delegating tasks to your future self. These are things that Future Astawa has to complete tomorrow. Items that can be delegated aren’t as important but still need to be completed soon.
DEFER – Low Urgency, High Importance | Get This Done Later In The Week
Anything that needs to get done but doesn’t have a deadline around the corner can be deferred. People aren’t dying for this. It’s not stalling the project. It needs to get done, but it can wait. You can defer those for later in the week.
DELETE – Low Urgency, Low Importance | Get This Off Your List
How do you know what you can delete? Ask yourself, “If this doesn’t get done, will anyone I’m working with or anything I’m working on be hurt?” If the answer is no, then drop it.
Often we fill our to-do list with things that would be nice to have, but actually distract us from higher impact items. For example, you could spend your day focused on one activity that provides compounded benefits as opposed to 5 miscellaneous tasks you’ll forget about next week.
- Do a brain dump on Sunday night for the week ahead.
- Ask yourself, “Where do I want to be this time next week?”
- Prioritize items you’ll regret not getting done.
Not Everything On Your To-Do List Needs to Get Done
When I started building a business, I was also juggling a part-time job while studying for my undergrad full-time. It was a challenge balancing all that while also trying to maintain some sort of a social life.
In order to feel productive, I believed that my to-do list needed to be packed and that everything needed to happen today. I set super high standards for myself. More often than not, I’d end the day feeling guilty for leaving so much on my to-do list uncrossed.
As my plate started filling up with more important work, though, I began realizing that not everything on my to-do list needs to be done today. By focusing on the high-value tasks I’m able to move the projects forward that matter, and leave the dust behind me.
Remember, this is my process. This is something that I’ve refined for myself over years of iteration. You might have a completely different process that works for you, but I hope my process can serve as a baseline for you to start off on.
This Might Help
Put process before tools.
But a good tool can help you take a great process to new levels. For me right now, that tool is Notion.
Notion is an incredibly powerful productivity program that you can develop into whatever you want– calendars, kanban boards, lists– the possibilities are endless.