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Enhance Your Life: Going Beyond What’s Important to What’s Crucial

Enhance Your Life: Going Beyond What’s Important to What’s Crucial
    Climb past what’s important to discover what’s crucial in your life

    When taking on the project of improving your productivity, you’ll undoubtedly come across two words that go hand-in-hand with the practice: important and urgent. These two words often intertwine depending on what your priorities are and how well you’re keeping up with what you’ve got on the go.

    Knowing what the difference between important and urgent is a challenge for many, but once you’ve been doing it for a while it gets easier. It may not get easier to get the important stuff done before it turns into something urgent, but that’s a whole other matter. Another challenge is to remember that this is your time being spent, whether it is on a project or a task. How you plot out what each tasks means to you and to your time is worthy of strong consideration because if you simply jot things down without contemplating how they’ll be impacted by the time you have to offer and how they’ll impact the time you have to have available, you’ll end up in a state of overwhelm — and a very long to-do list.

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    Categorizing the levels of importance and urgency is another necessity. There’s no definitive way to organize these thoughts, but a common method is to use Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrant Matrix.

      Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants

      Covey’s matrix is still a resource for many who are trying to decide how and where to spend their time. But considering that it appeared in the book First Things First back in 1994, back when time management and productivity strategies didn’t have the benefit (or informational overflow) of the Internet, it could use a retooling. That may sound bold, but while the idea of Covey’s matrix still has some merit, the problem lies in the words used in the matrix itself.

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      The Problem with Important

      The problem with important these days is that it is thrown around with little regard to what it means. In fact, it’s used so much that the word itself doesn’t seem to be as, well, important as it once was. Things that are important often are just things that have to get done, but have little resonance beyond that – they aren’t attached to anything deeper or more meaningful in the greater scheme of things. Anything with the word urgent attached to it will always feel stronger because of the need for it to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Even in passing, when someone says the word “urgent”, it creates a feeling or sense of immediacy. Unless someone is looking you straight in the eye, is genuinely in the moment and says the word “important” can it even come close to having the impact intended. The only way it gets closer is if you feel that what they are attaching to the word important to is actually important to you as well.

      The word crucial, however, doesn’t get thrown around as much. Better still, when someone uses the word in the same manner as they used important as mentioned above, the ability to feel how much it matters to them all the more. When something is said to be crucial, it means that it is “of great importance” by definition alone. It’s possible that the other manner is which the word crucial is used – decisive or critical, especially in the success or failure of something: i.e. negotiations were at a crucial stage – adds instant power to the word it wouldn’t otherwise have, but the effects are still the same. When something is said to be crucial, you know it’s important. When something is said to be important, well…results may vary.

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      The key to really doing what matters on an overall scale – using David Allen’s Horizons of Focus as a measuring stick – you need to first earn to separate the urgent from the important and then curate what’s important to what’s crucial. Everything you do should lead to the great goal of what is crucial to you living a happy life. The amount of things that need to be done that are urgent should be minimal, because they generally serve to keep you occupied from what’s crucial to your overall goals in life. The amount of things that are important should be examined to separate what is important over the short term versus the long term. You may find that what you thought was important really isn’t at all. Often, these things are just things that will become urgent if you let them slide for too long, but they aren’t of any overarching importance. It’s those things that are crucial to you getting to where you want to be that will define your outcomes far great than anything else you do. You need to be clear on those so that you can map out how you’re going to achieve your goals – and your dreams.

      A New Productivity Paradigm

        Covey’s matrix with a “Crucial Cube” inserted

        Rather than use a quadrant to look at how to measure your actions and projects going forward, I suggest you do what I’ve done, and place a box in the dead center of the diagram. It’s what I call a Crucial Cube.

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        Sure, it isn’t exactly a cube (but Crucial Square doesn’t sound as appealing), but by adding it to the diagram the focus shifts to what’s crucial to you overall rather than what isn’t. Placing it in the centre draws focus, allows you to start there and finish on the outer realms or vice versa. The key is it gets you looking at what you really want to achieve and still displays the supporting things you can do to get there. The Crucial Cube feeds off of the remaining quadrants and the quadrants are fueled by what’s in the Crucial Cube.

        Getting clear on what’s crucial is the most beneficial thing you can do to enhance your productivity, your balance and your life. Doing so could be the productivity wake-up call you need, the jumpstart to getting where you know you can be – and want to be. Moving beyond the word “important” and making a conscious choice to use the word “crucial” instead will power up your life in a simple, yet profound way.

        The Crucial Takeaway

        Adopting a new habit is never easy, but with focus and perseverance, it can happen a lot faster. Take some time to really look at how you’re managing your time and your life, as well as what words you’re using in the process.

        • Understand urgency and how to deal with it.
        • Investigate importance so that you can separate what is from what isn’t, bringing power back to the word by doing so.
        • Cultivate what is crucial and you’ll enhance your life.

        Give the diagram above a try. Write down what you feel is crucial to (and for) you inside a Crucial Cube. Then build the matrix around that, allowing the items inside to feed off the cube’s contents and vice versa. Let me know how it worked for you in the comments.

        More by this author

        Mike Vardy

        A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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        Last Updated on August 20, 2019

        How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

        How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

        Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

        If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are a few strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

        1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

        The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

        Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

        For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

        The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

        2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

        Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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        As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

        Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

        3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

        Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

          This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

          We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

          Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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          When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

          Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

          4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

          Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

          For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

          Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

          5. Make Decisions

          For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

          If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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          If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

          Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

          I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

          This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

          The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

          6. Take Some Form of Action

          Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

          The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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          It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

          Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

          The Bottom Line

          Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

          When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

          More About Reducing Work Stress

          Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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