We have all set goals, and we have all heard of SMART Goal setting because our Jobs, Careers, and maybe even our studies have required us to do these. Of course, goals, projects, and to-do lists are not just for work; they are for our personal life and running our homes.
Coming up with goals, projects, and to-do lists is relatively easy. We could write reams of plans and projects and their subsequent sub-tasks to keep us busy and engaged for several lifetimes. This activity can create feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and frustration. These feelings can lead us to abandon projects, goals, or tasks, which causes us indirect stress, frustration, irritability and anger.
Too Many Goals – What to do?
What task should you do first to make progress with a goal, project, or item on your to-do list? How do you decide what is essential, urgent, and where you should spend your time?
It is easier to know what needs to be worked on when we work for a company and the manager or project dictates what needs to be done. But, for personal projects, we might find it harder. Or we find it hard at work, at school, and in our personal life.
The 80/20 Rule
I discovered the 80/20 rule maybe in my third job after University. The 80/20 rule ( Pareto Principle – a 19th-century economist); can be demonstrated with this example: – twenty per cent of a restaurant menu leads to eighty per cent of its revenue (income).
How can we use this for our to-do list? Say, for example, today’s to-do list has ten items. This rule implies you only have to achieve two things to achieve eighty per cent effectiveness to move a project or goal forward.
When I learned this, I started to write my to-do list in no particular order, I would see what tasks had deadlines against them (especially at work), and I would decide what my twenty per cent tasks are that would give an eighty per cent return. I would mark them and work on them. Then I would select the next set. Working like this gave me clarity, focus, drive and motivation.
When you first do it, it might be a bit of trial and error to figure out what is important, urgent, or nice to do. You will learn a lot about yourself when you work like this. It will help you do the tasks you don’t like to do, because often the are the ones that give you 80% return.
What is the difference between Urgent and Important?
It is all-important. It is all urgent. It all has to get done to make the goal happen; the project happens, right?
Before you drive the car, you have to walk to the car, open the door, put the key in the ignition, turn it, put the car in gear, and indicate, check your mirrors before safely driving. There is an order of events.
But, what stops me from driving? I don’t have a driving licence; I don’t have a car. Or I have a driving licence and a car, but I have no insurance to drive.
We can see that having car insurance is an important task to arrange, allowing me to be a safe driver. Now say, you have car insurance and car, and you have a driving license, but you have a flat tyre – fixing the tyre is now urgent.
The Eisenhower Matrix
When President Dwight Eisenhower was in office, he arranged his office so that only urgent and important matters came to his attention, and the rest of the issues were managed by his team. He discovered that urgent and important seldom come together. Meaning urgent things are seldom important. And important things are seldom urgent.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a task management tool that divides tasks into Urgent & Important, Not Urgent & Important, Urgent & Not Important, and Not Urgent & Not Important.
So if we go back to the car example, fixing the flat tyre to get to an appointment is more ‘urgent’ than paying the car insurance that is due at the end of the month that is 20 days away.
But, if I do nothing for 20 days, the car insurance will become urgent! Though car insurance is important, it is not an urgent matter for today. Today the urgent and important issue is the flat tyre.
The point is to cut the urgency in our life, be smart, prevent urgent situations where we can, put our best efforts into the task that yields the most significant results, and delegate tasks.
Below is an example of the Eisenhower Matrix. I have adjusted it a bit, to make it a bit easier to use.
Now, take your to-do list and place tasks into the four different matrix quadrants; this will help you decide what to do urgently today, what is not urgent or not important today(i.e quadrant 4), or what is important.
A note on Quadrant 4
A note on quadrant 4 – though it is labelled delete, we are not deleting the task. We are deferring it. Studies have shown that we spend too much energy and time on non-urgent and non-important tasks (aka quadrant 4). No wonder we feel like we are on a hamster wheel and haven’t reached our goals.
To achieve the professional or personal goals, we want to be working in quadrants 1, 2 and 3 daily. We need to watch out for tasks in quadrant four because they can become quadrant 2, 3 or 1 tasks before we know it. We need to review our priorities daily in this matrix, as they can move quickly from one quadrant to a more urgent/important one.
The 80/20 rule can be used when working on quadrant 2 and 3 tasks. If you can delegate work, you achieve many tasks in parallel.
Planning your Tasks.
With the Eisenhower Matrix and 80/20 rule, you can prioritise your projects and goals sub-tasks as a master plan. Then in your Monthly, Weekly and Daily planning sessions, you can decide what to work on and when.
I like to write my daily to-do list the night before, my Weekly plan is on the Friday before leaving work, and my Monthly is the last week of the previous month.
Make Use of Electronic and/or Diaries.
I use my google calendar or outlook to set reminders for tasks, deadlines, meetings, and appointments. I use a small wall calendar at home for personal appointments and home tasks, and I carry a small diary.
It seems like overkill – I know. But, I am a visual person, and I am used to using a manual diary because I graduated pre-internet (well, the internet was just being built when I graduated – lol).
I like having my calendar on my phone too, but I am not superglued to my phone and find it faster to run to the calendar in the kitchen or the small one in my purse, especially if I am not near my computer.
Other things to think about when …
It is vital to keep some flexibility in your planning.
Allow for things to go wrong, illnesses, and whatever else life can throw at you.
It is essential to know yourself, when you work best and when you don’t. Ensure you know when there are public holidays or when the people you work with are on holiday as this all helps in deciding the priority of tasks. And it is important to create flexibility in your life and tasks if you are responsible for a family member in any way. Or you yourself have a health issue.
Use your Subconscious Mind
If you are stuck on a non-urgent task and have time, park the task for the rest of the day. Leave it for your subconscious to come up with the answer, and move on to the next task.
After a good night’s sleep, the answer will pop into your head by the morning. Keep a notebook by your bed with a working pen to write all the ideas down so you can remember them and use them.
The subconscious mind technique was something I learned at my first proper job after University. I have used it countless times, and I have solved many issues peacefully and calmly. It takes a bit of time to get used to it. It can be hard when learning something new. Eventually, it gets easier.
I hope you found this post useful. Be sure to save it, and share it with your friends. Do comment below what works for you when you prioritise goals etc, as well as any valuable lesson you think we could all learn from.
- Book: Working Smart – by Micheal Leboeuff, PH.D published in 1993 (that is how old the book is) and when I learned about it. But, I think I learned about it in 1996
- Eisenhower Matrix -Asana
- Eisenhower Matrix – todoist
- And my personal experience of course.
Images: Feature images from Pexel. Eisenhower Matrix – my creation with reference to Asana, todoist, the book and my own experiences.
I created a free Goal Setting Booklet – you can download it below. Please consider supporting this blog, you can make a small one off donation before downloading ( or after).