One of my favorite book is First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill.
I always tell people that my companies work on the basis of priorities. It's one of the reasons that I love keeping things in a professional services automation program. When every person in the office is working on the highest priority tasks, everything just runs better.
Covey, et al. divide task along two simple variables: Important vs. Not Important and Urgent vs. Not Urgent.
Interestingly, the things that show up "urgently" in our lives has increased dramatically since this book was written. We now have phones and beep and tweet all day long. Outlook and instant messaging pops up all day long. We leave Facebook open and check it every time there's new activity. And on it goes.
We confuse urgency with importance all the time. This is a result of not working from a set of valid priorities. Just because the doorbell rings doesn't mean you have to answer it. Same with the phone. And Outlook. And everything else.
When you have good, solid priorities, then it's possible to work on the most important things. If you have bad, weak priorities, then you don't really know what's important in your own business (or life).
What are bad priorities and weak priorities? They're the things you haven't thought through very well. If you find yourself saying "everything's HI priority," that's a sign that you haven't really thought about what's important.
Every single thing you have on your "to do" list can be prioritized. You can line them up from highest to lowest - and you should do this. Because only then will you know that you're working on the highest priority item.
When you have weak priorities (you're not truly committed to them), then clients can interrupt you with "urgent" requests and you allow yourself to be interrupted. The same is true with your employees, strangers on the phone, and many others.
When you're working on the highest priority items at all times, it's much easier to see that most urgent interruptions aren't important at all.
The quadrant where you should spend most of your time is the Important/Non-Urgent quadrant. The place where you should spend zero time is the Unimportant/Non-Urgent quadrant.
Check out the video. Comments welcome as always.
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