Tag Archives: how to set priorities

Interesting Articles for May

Reading 2Here are some of the inspiring articles I have read in the past month.  I hope you enjoy them as well.

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September Reading

These are just are some articles that I have read recently that got me thinking about time managment.  I hope you enjoy them as well.

A great look at what gets you moving towards your goals from PPM Blog.  Learning to Understand Your Motivation

Do you take time off so that you can stay focused on what you need to do?  This is an interesting take on why vacations make you more effective.  By Tony Schwartz from HBR Blog  More Vacation is the Secret Sauce

Suggestions on how to regain control over your to-do list from Simple Productivity Blog.  Can’t Keep Up – 10 Ways to Simplify Your To Do List

If you work from home this is a great list of how to manage being productive while being your own boss.  By Timo Kiander on LifeHack.  5 Critical Elements of Successful Work at Home Productivity

This is a fresh look at time management ideas on The Organized Executive.  It’s a two part series.  The New Time Management Model Part 1 & The New Time Management Model Part 2

Finding time to stay sharp and keep learning.  From Franklin Covey Blog.  Balance Beam – Finding Time to Sharpen the Saw

Happy reading.  What have you read that inspired you to do / be more?

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Time Management and The “Big Things” in Life

I wanted to share with you a great parable on time management.  It’s been around for years in many forms, I’ve captured one variation. 

The point of the parable is to take care of the “big” things first.  These are the items that are most important to you.  Doing those first creates room for all the little things, but if the little things come first the big things get left out.

Here is a video of Stephen R Covey demonstrating this if you haven’t seen it in person.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wu5Dn4uCau8

So what are you focused on today?

Time Management Parable

by: Author Unknown, Source Unknown

One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget.

As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said,

“Okay, time for a quiz” and he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouth mason jar and set it on the table in front of him. He also produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class yelled, “Yes.”

The time management expert replied, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. He then asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?”

By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted.

Once again he said, “Good.” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life, time with your loved ones, your faith, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching or mentoring others? Remember to put these big rocks in first or you’ll never get them in at all. So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life? Then, put those in your jar first.

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Quote for June 26th

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Peter Drucker

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Activity vs Results

I’ve seen a lot of information lately on the idea of what constitutes productivity.  Is it getting things done or is it getting results?  I love this debate because it really is relevant to today’s world. 

So often we get caught up in the idea of checking things off the list and we focus on that list.  But do we look at what are the results of the actions we take?  Many of the time management systems out there tell us to prioritize our activities, identify what is important and make sure we look to the important things first.  This may still be a focus on the things we do.  Many jobs are geared towards getting things done and people are rewarded for getting things done.  I know I’ve been proud that people see me as someone who “gets things done” and yet at times it feels very hollow.   I’ve gotten true satisfaction from the results I’ve achieved more than the things I’ve done.  This distinction is important for productivity.

The idea of lean processes is to get rid of waste and focus on the things that create value.  This really is a results based thought process.  By zeroing in on the things that create value in a business process the company can eliminate waste, save money and be more profitable because their efforts are centered on the things that matter and will provide the best results.  Going through a process mapping exercise can be enlightening to the people involved.  They have been focused on all the things that they do get complete the process and often they have never stopped to think about which of those things really have no impact on the results.  They just do the steps to get it all done.

What if we looked at our daily to-do list from that same perspective?  What results do we need to achieve and what steps do we take to get there?  Are there things on our list that can be skipped without jeopardizing our results?  How much more time would we have in the day to really accomplish the results we want if we work only on the things that impact the results? 

Now I know there are many things that we do because they are required by others, so we can’t just stop doing those.  However, do you know why that report is needed or why something is required?  If not, ask about it.  It maybe something that has always been done so it must continue, but if no one uses the information to get the results they need, where is the value in it? 

The key to making this work is to know needed results of what you are doing.  Understand the why of the activity that is on your to-do list.  This accomplishes two things for you.  First you will know how important the task is for you and / or the organization.  Secondly it will tell you what you need to do to successfully complete the task.  This allows you to do the things that will make your efforts valuable without wasting time and energy doing something that has no impact or no value to the end product.

For you is productivity about results or completing tasks?

photo from iStockPhoto.com

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Tool Traps

As I’m getting ready to start a new project I got caught up in figuring what tool would be the best to capture the materials.  My new project is to create a family cookbook in a digital format that I can add to over the years.  I have decades of recipes that are stuffed into the kitchen cookbook cabinet.  Every time I go to find one of the recipes I end up searching through a pile of papers.  Since we will be moving in a couple of months now is the time to get it organized.  So how best to document it?

I pulled all the papers and sorted them by type and purged the duplicates and ones I don’t want to keep.  Then I started to look into ways to document the recipes.  Should I use Word, Publisher, or other software?  Do I create my own template or use one that is already created?  Do I pay for something or use a free format?  And so goes the questions.  As a result I still haven’t really started the project in earnest.  I’ve gotten caught in an analysis paralysis type trap.

In the modern workplace we have so many resources available to us that it is possible to get caught up in a similar trap.  This can be along the lines of what I’m experiencing or it could be a glut of information that is overwhelming.  As well I’ve seen people get stuck on whether to use the new program or the old one for the next project.  It may be that you have a new electronic tool (software or hardware) and getting it figured out before you start is holding up the project.  Whatever the actual cause it is important to realize what is happening and rein it in as quickly as possible. 

Here are a couple of tips to help you get back on track:

  1. New Tools:  If it’s new and it’s required take the time to figure it out before getting into the meat of the project.  If it’s not required to be used determine if you have the time to learn it on this project before jumping in.
  2. Choices:  When you need to decide which tool is the best to use take a few minutes to determine what best suits the requirements of the project.  Look at long-term maintenance of the results, ease of use for others if needed, and what is required to get started.
  3. Information Overload:  When you are involved in a project requiring research / data set limits on what is applicable.  With access to the web it is easy to get too much information so have a well-defined scope that allows you to narrow your search to what will get the project moving along quickly and efficiently.

Whatever the trap you have found yourself in set a strategy to work your way out of it quickly, before you’ve lost time and productivity.  For me, I will spend some time exploring the options to see if there is a new approach that will benefit the project in the long run.  However, I have a start time set and as I approach it I force myself to decide and go with the choice.  For my cookbook project I have decided to use Word because it will take me longer to get Publisher up and running smoothly.  As well, I may not always have Publisher available but I will be able to edit Word in the future. 

How do you get out of the traps that interfere with your productivity?

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Eating Frogs!

I was sitting at my desk debating how best to tackle several tasks on my list and I was reminded of a book on procrastination by Brian Tracy “Eat That Frog!”  Part of my issue was that I really wasn’t sure how I wanted to accomplish either task in front of me so I was finding things to do instead.  The premise of the book is that as Mark Twain once said if you have to eat a live frog first thing in the morning it will be the worst thing to happen to you that day.  Tracy compares the most important thing you have to do each day is your “frog”. 

I love this analogy and have seen it used several times in time management training.  The big message behind using the frog analogy is to encourage people to take action immediately.  For me as I’m sitting stalling and dragging my feet I tell myself it’s time to eat the frog.  I always smile and it forces me into figuring out the next step on the task that is staring at me.  For me it’s a call to action.

The key to breaking the procrastination habit is to get started.  First you have to identify the most critical item that you need to complete that day.  Once you have that figured out, break it down into steps so you know where to start.  Once you know what to do you can plan your day and take the appropriate actions.  Once you know what to do you can plan your day and take the appropriate actions. 

Remember you don’t have to finish the big complex items at one sitting and you will never finish if you don’t take the first step.  Wayne Gretzky has been quoted as saying “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  So commit to getting started, break down the task into manageable steps and get moving. 

So next time you are struggling to get started on the items on your to-do list, picture eating the ugliest frog possible.  Remember if you must eat that frog, then get to it and get it over with quickly. Your day will get better from there.  It can be eaten in bites, just get it done! 

Bon appétit!

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Prioritizing Your To-Do List

Now that I have my to-do list all up-to-date and visible where do I start?

  • Do the fun items first
  • Do the easy items first
  • Deal with that email I just got
  • The phone’s ringing – I’ll deal with it
  • Start on the biggest, ugliest project on the list
  • Deal with the item that is due soonest

All of these are valid methods to get things done, however they may not help you get them all done. This is where priorities come into play. So how do you set priorities? Activities can be put into one of 4 categories below:

  1. Strategic Tasks:  Important but not Urgent – Planning, research, creativity
  2. Critical Tasks:  Important and Urgent – Emergencies, meetings, projects
  3. Time Wasters:  Not Important or Urgent – Idle chatting, web surfing, couch potato
  4. Interruptions:  Urgent but not Important – Phone calls, emails, unplanned visitors

The urgent things are the ones that everyone focuses on first because they are compelling, that phone ringing, the new email, the boss coming by with a new assignment…..  Some do need to happen right away such as the project with a fast approaching deadline, the monthly billing, the client meeting.

Unfortunately the ones most often ignored are important items that are not urgent. They are the ones that will help you achieve your goals and yet they have no time constraint on them. These are the things that fall in the category of “When I have some free time I’ll….”. Amazingly for me this free time never appears.

Franklin Covey suggests looking at your to-do list and assigning a priority to each item starting with Category 2, then moving to Category 1 and then 4. Category 3 should be avoided since these are time wasters that cause you to delay Category 1 items.   See Franklin Covey “How to Set Priorities”  http://www.achieve-goal-setting-success.com/set-priorities.html for more insights.

Now that you know the priority of each item, think about the time it will take for you do get it done and compare that to your schedule. If you have a meeting in 30 minutes but your highest priority item will take 2 hours, now might not be the best time to start it. Either carve out time in your schedule to dedicate to it or break it into pieces that can be fit into your day easier.

By knowing how much time things will take you can use your prioritized to-do list to fill in your day with the important things not the time wasters. It’s easy to chat or surf the web when you have 15 minutes until your next appointment but you may have something that will advance your goals which would be better use of the same 15 minutes.

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