The key to getting things done and achieving results is prioritization. In project management, that means not everything that comes to your plate is urgent.
This is one of the hardest lessons to learn. Even veterans struggle to do this daily. But that doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to this.
Urgent vs Important
The famous urgent vs important debate goes back to several decades. The most popular method in today’s world to depict this is the Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the urgency/importance matrix.
The Eisenhower Matrix is simple. You list down your activities and/or projects, categorize them depending on their urgency and importance, then follow the recommendations:
- Urgent/Important: Do it now —but aim to reduce time spent here as they are mostly related to fire-fighting
- Not urgent/important: Schedule it on your calendar. These are the tasks that really move the needle
- Urgent/not important: Delegate these tasks as much as possible.
- Not urgent/not important: Avoid spending time here as much as possible. These are time wasters.
The key is to focus on important tasks rather than spending your limited time and energy on urgent ones.
Why This Matters
Prioritization is key to getting things done. Because you have limited time and energy per day, you cannot do everything you set out to do.
There will always be more work left at the end of each day. So the question is which tasks will remain not done?
Using the matrix above, these should be the ones in the red categories. There are unavoidable stuff. Don’t neglect them. But as much as possible, spend time on important tasks, not just the urgent ones.
Another reason why this matters is achieving results on your main projects takes big swaths of time. It’s not something you can do for 5 minutes a day. In most cases, you need an hour or more of focused time to make significant progress. More on this below.
Lastly, prioritization matters because urgent tasks only solve today’s problems. It doesn’t help you grow and move forward. From a business perspective, fire-fighting only helps you survive. Yes, that’s important too. But you want to be more than that, right? You want to thrive, grow, and succeed.
How to Prioritize
First, know what is important. These will be your main KPIs. If you don’t know them, have a discussion with your manager. Do this in your first 30 days if you’re new to a job. If you’re there for a while and you still have no idea, ask to have a discussion with your boss now.
Once you know what you have to be working on, add blocks of time on your calendar for important activities that contribute to those. Start with two 90-minute blocks. For example, you can create a recurring event on your calendar every Monday from 2:00-3:30 PM and Wednesdays 9:00-10:30 AM.
On those times, work on things that move towards completing your main goals.
Don’t Forget to Measure Your Progress
Make sure you are tracking your progress towards completing your goals. Some will be easy to track like sales goals or ad spend. But for most projects, this can be tricky. That’s why at the onset, you should think of a few proxy metrics that will be used to gauge your progress. This is why plans and strategies are useless if you don’t back it up with execution. And the only way to determine that is by measuring your progress.
For example, migrating to a new CRM or accounting software can be a big project for you. This can actually take a few months to complete especially if the company has several years of data it needs to be migrated too.
Some proxy metrics you can use could be the following:
- Complete data migration by 20 April — then break this down into different categories like company records, customer records, invoices, etc.
- 100% accuracy in parallel runs — for accounting software, when you run payroll or try to reconcile monthly entries, your current (old) software should match the ones you have for your new software.
In order to continuously make progress, especially if you’re working with a team, you have to follow the golden rule—assigning who does what by when.
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