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If You’re Busy But Still Find Your Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off, You Probably Lack This Important Skill

If You’re Busy But Still Find Your Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off, You Probably Lack This Important Skill

Former United States President Dwight Eisenhower was responsible for putting together one of the most important yet fundamentally simple to understand concepts in time management. Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle is a tool to help decipher what tasks need to be addressed more immediately than others. Anyone who uses the principle will be better able to organize and orchestrate their daily tasks. This skill is especially imperative for busy people who find themselves working too hard and still not getting everything done.

Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle places tasks into four categories:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important but Not Urgent
  • Not Important but Urgent
  • Not Important and Not Urgent

These four categories are used to label and organize which tasks need to be addressed first and which ones can be approached last. By asserting something’s importance and its urgency, we are better able to identify what comes first:

covey-time-management-grid
    Image retrieved from SAE Alumni Association

    What these quadrants reveal is that identifying which tasks are either important or urgent boils down to time management and what makes us most efficient. For example, President Obama’s former campaign manager said in an article by WebMD that Obama valued his time to exercise and that it helped fuel him for the rest of his day. According to Obama, “The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time.” The article goes on in detail about his routine and how he values its importance.

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    James Clear, a behavioral psychology writer, noted in a blog post that “too often, we use productivity, time management, and optimization as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: ‘Do I actually need to be doing this?’ It is much easier to remain busy and tell yourself that you just need to be a little more efficient or to ‘work a little later tonight’ than to endure the pain of eliminating a task that you are comfortable with doing, but that isn’t the highest and best use of your time.”

    Let’s take a deeper look at each quadrant, what it means, and how we should approach all of our tasks with either urgency or importance (or both).

    Urgent And Important

    For Urgent/Important tasks, they can arise unexpectedly or may have been left for the last minute. These tasks need to be managed ahead of time. Make plans to address these tasks so that they do not become stressful activities when it comes close to deadlines. It’s also a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your daily schedule just in case unexpected tasks come about.

    Assess your deadlines. Are you moving at an appropriate pace to meet that deadline?

    Emergencies happen. Whether they are unexpected meetings or sickness or injuries, they can’t be put off until later.

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    This will force you to reconsider your task list and how much time you have to apply to each quadrant.

    Important But Not Urgent

    Not Urgent/Important tasks are integral to personal growth, building relationships, and accomplishing long-term professional goals. If these tasks are given the proper amount of time, they will not become urgent. This will prevent unexpected and last-minute tasks from unexpectedly cluttering up your time later on, keeping stress and frustration at bay. You’ll be able to complete work efficiently and effectively.

    Exercise is an example of this. Personal growth through exercise is not an overnight progress. Training for a run or any other sort of competition doesn’t begin just days before. Plan your goals ahead of time, but leave room for urgent, unexpected tasks.

    Maintaining your relationships is also important. Keep up with friends and family and partners, but be mindful of how much time you’re alotting here. There is such a thing as putting too much time into relationships. Your goals are important, too. If you keep putting them off, they’ll soon become urgent and you’ll become stressed. This may affect your relationships in the long run.

    Urgent But Not Important

    Urgent/Not Important tasks are cumbersome and get in the way of your goals. Responding to phone calls or emails that are not pertinent to your goals or attending meetings with people who don’t bring any value to completing your activities can be wasted time. Avoid these if possible and delegate the activities if you can. Something to keep in mind: you’re saying yes to the person, but no to the task.

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    If someone or something requires that you do things for them frequently, then it might be best to arrange time for them in one larger block of time. This will allow you to focus your energy and time on multiple things.

    Respond to time-sensitive correspondence as needed. Don’t wait until after a deadline to inform someone when that deadline is:

    You: “Hey, the class will be starting at noon today.”

    Colleague: “Really? Because it’s already 2 P.M.!”

    Not Urgent And Not Important

    Not Urgent/Not Important tasks should also be avoided. Spending time on Facebook or Twitter, watching TV, and shopping (when it’s not important to completing your tasks to have the things you’re shopping for) can significantly drain your time. Limit these tasks as much as possible. It’s not always going to be easy saying no to these mostly leisure activities, but it is important to remain mindful of how much of that time you’re using here.

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    Yes, everyone is talking about the new show on Netflix. They watched it this past weekend and are already posting memes and gifs on Facebook. This doesn’t mean you have to do the same.

    Complete tasks first and then assess if you have time to participate in leisure. Otherwise, you’re procrastinating, and that affects all the other quadrants.

    In Conclusion

    Eisenhower’s Principles can be vital in developing skills to effectively and consistently complete tasks, delegate properly, and work efficiently. Take time to look over your tasks to determine which quadrant they belong.

    • Is there a deadline? If yes, then it is important.
    • Is the deadline soon? If yes, then it is urgent.
    • Is the task necessary to completing the other tasks? If yes, then it is important.
    • Can I delegate the task to someone else? If yes, then it is not important.
    • What does it have to do with your personal growth?
    • What does it have to do with your professional growth?

    Ask yourself these questions when you need to determine a task’s importance and urgency. Make a quadrant table of your own somewhere to help you visualize all your tasks. This is an excellent exercise for time management, and it could be the foundation of healthy work habits that stick around for a long time.

    Featured photo credit: Jazmine Quaynor via stocksnap.io

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    Kyle Hiller

    Author, Writer

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    Last Updated on February 18, 2019

    How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

    How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

    These days, in a world with cognitive, AI, and extraordinary advances, we have failed at the most basic stimulus: motivation. Why do I say so? Just take a look at these statistics:

    58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training as per a CareerBuilder.com survey. Only 12% of employees leave their jobs because of more money. Research indicates that around 80% of employees leave their jobs due to “lack of appreciation”. Due to fear of failing, more than half of American workers don’t take their paid vacations. 53% of Americans are unhappy at work (not engaged). And 1 in 3 are working in a field they don’t like.[1]

    Archaic people management and HR structures are the root cause.

    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    So how to motivate employees and boost team productivity?

    Here are 3 key things that you can do to motivate your employees and boost team productivity:

    1. Run Your Team/Group/Company like a Lean Startup

    The Lean Startup phenomena by Eric Ries has been socialized across millions all over the globe. In a nutshell, it is a methodology for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning.[2]

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    Encourage Your Employees

    When you empower your employees (or family members) to do what they deem to be best for a particular roadblock, idea, or improvement, you create magic. You create genuine trust. You enable innovation. The result is happy, inspired employees who feel they have a say in the grand cosmic stage at work.

    Note that increasing the competency level of employees and coaching and mentoring them along the way is key. You yourself, need to do the same. Nourish your brain – and get a mentor that will keep you at the edge of your game.

    Offer Rewards

    Motivation is also intrinsic. The startups I have worked at offered instant rewards — not just fat checks or equity increments, but Oscar-style nominations.

    The non-monetary rewards were actually more coveted, and grandiose: lunch with the CEO, tickets to an Obama fund-raiser, horse-back riding with a world-class equestrian.

    Compare this to a dodgy, corporate, white-cubicle dinosaur that had a “yearly performance review” where both parties dread the conversation. In a world of instant WhatsApp messages, having a conversation about performance, likes and dislikes cannot just happen annually in 60 minutes. Employees need to be rooted in the belief that their manager genuinely cares about them.

    Give Autonomy

    Another key attribute is autonomy. Most employees start brushing their resumes and cruising LinkedIn when their hands are tied in their current positions: approval forms, long meetings, escalations, and more meetings. In the world of agile and scrum masters, deliberating for the sake of deliberating is poison. You will choke the very employees that giddily accepted the job initially to “change the world”.

    Within a reasonable realm of assessment and deep-dives, trust your employees to do the heavy lifting. Give them access to the knowledge, people and resources that help them directly make the choices that will shape the future of your team, and your company.

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    Eliminate yourself as the bottleneck – and interject yourself as a benevolent, servant leader that is the symbol of high-performing organizations.

    2. Apply the 90/90/1 Rule

    I recently saw a video by Deepak Sharma (a leadership adviser) about productivity and this principle stuck with me. Here’s what it’s about:

    Devote the First 90 Minutes of Your Day to Important Project

    For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your day to your most important project—nothing else. Do this for yourself and your employees.

    We usually get sucked into the most wasteful, operational activities in the morning which robs our focus, and steers us into an unwanted rabbit hole. So mute your notifications, avoid the temptation to check your exploding inbox, and scroll your Instagram feed later. Instead, focus on that ONE thing that will provide real value to you, your team, or your business/company/home.

    Apply this rule to yourself – and your team. Your team will thank you. Note: If you’re feeling really stretched for time, you can always hack the rule by testing out a “45/45/1” version.

    A To Do Scheduling System

    Another version of this is to use the Kanban concept, developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Kanban is a scheduling system employing boards and cards.

    The most basic version is a canvas with “To-do”, “Doing”, and “Done” boards (or columns). Each activity or task is a “card” that moves from one column to the other. I use Trello (a Kanban-inspired app) that is a key system for my personal and professional life. It allows me to understand my workload, their priority, and due dates.

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    I use importance and effort metrics (scores) for each task to understand what is truly necessary in my life to work on. It negates the FIFO (first-in, first out) paradox that has plagued millions of people. Instead, it allows me to take stock of what is on my plate, and then bite on what truly will move the needle for me, my team, my life, and my company.

    With a limited appetite (at least for some), would you eat the veggies, fries, mashed potatoes and leave the sizzling steak? No, you wouldn’t (unless you are a vegan and ended up in the wrong restaurant).

    Approach your work with a weighted vengeance – and encourage your team to do the same.

    3. Align Passion and Skills to Purpose

    The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.

    “The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are—that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” — Richard Leider

    An ace team-member once told me that while she enjoys working for the company we both used to work at, she really hated anything to do with technology. She was more of a “people” person, and did not want to sit behind a desk sifting through lines of code.

    What struck me was that she was in that role for more than a decade and had just spoken up. The good thing is she spoke up. She expressed her desire and interests. And it allowed her to get into a role of her liking within 30 days.

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    Ask If They like What They’re Doing

    If you, or a team member is frustrated, demotivated, or not performing at their best – one of the questions you should ask is whether they like what they are doing. Then genuinely try to help them get to the role they should be in (whether in the same team/company or not).

    There’s a reason why 53% of Americans (and perhaps more or same across the globe) are unhappy at work. A butcher cannot be an ace salad maker. Pursue your passion – and help pave the way for your team. Unlock your potential and theirs. You will command and lead a supercharged team.

    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

    The Bottom Line

    Sometimes, passion has to be ignited. It is dormant, clouded by busy-ness, buried by wrong career choices, and plagued by non-supportive eco-systems. Some will climb out of it, but we as society — and in the case of business teams — incumbent upon the manager/CEO/leader to foster, grow, and nurture the employee.

    Teach her the ropes. Show her the path. Advise him as you would yourself. Let them lead, and make mistakes. Do not fear them, rather make them the leader you would want to become.

    For your not-so-great team members, understand that it is not personal, it is just not a good fit. Help them move on to the pastures they would be fit to graze on. Hence, hire slow (and fire fast).

    Your team is a reflection of you. Boosting their confidence and helping them achieve the impossible is motivation. Focus on that, and you will have a productive team that you and your company will be proud of.

    More Resources About Team Management

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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