I met with a group of business people today and the general consensus was that the economy continues to struggle. Only one of the people in the room believed the signs of sustainable growth were evident in their market. Those working with municipalities, small businesses, design engineering, and construction all felt there continued to be a general softness in their markets. What was most interesting is that the workload was picking up, but mostly because organizations remain reticent to add staff and people are being stretched even more.
I suspect many of you are experiencing the same sort of situation in your business. Prioritizing your workload becomes even more critical as we find ourselves busier, but not quite confident enough to add staff. There are a number of helpful models that you might want to share with your staff to help them determine how to best prioritize their activity.
The Time Management Matrix which has been attributed to Eisenhower and also was made popular by Stephen Covey in my favorite book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The Time Management Matrix measures work and activity based on the level of Importance and the level of Urgency. Perhaps obviously, activities that are both Important and Urgent are where we should spent the majority of our time. This includes Crises, Pressing Issues, and Deadline-Driven projects, meetings, and tasks. Next should be Important activities that are not yet urgent. This would include preparation, planning, goal-setting, relationship buildings, process improvement, and long-range activities.
Below the mid-point on the matrix are activities which are Not Important. Urgent but unimportant activities are “foolers” because they appear important due to their urgency, and can sap your time and energy by dragging you into activities which have very little importance. These are the demands for your time when the saying, “Your poor planning is not my emergency” is appropriate. This includes some phone calls, some email and mail, general interruptions and not a few meetings. Finally, you will want to completely avoid and eliminate the unimportant and non-urgent activities from your work day. These include junk mail, some email and phone calls, social media, games, and chit-chat.
Quandrant 1 (Important and Urgent) is where you should spend most of your time. Do these first and do them now. However, if you spend enough time in Quandrant 2 (Important but Not Urgent) you can prevent many important activities from becoming urgent. Plan these activities into your schedule and do not procrastinate. For Quadrant 3 activities (Unimportant but Urgent) – delegate or eliminate. Do not spend time personally on these items. For Quadrant 4 activities, stop doing them immediately and do not even consider them during work hours.
If each person in your organization consistently and accurately evaluated their activities within this matrix, you would find an increase in productivity. Try this for three weeks. Use a chart and assign each activity to a quadrant as it comes to your attention and then practice these suggested responses to them. If you do this well, not only will you become more productive, but within three weeks you should feel more on top of your job than ever before.