Prioritizing our tasks gets more accomplished, or at least gets the most meaningful tasks handled, right?
But how often do we make a list in the morning, or even the night before, knowing that we'll be "laser-focused" -- only to find that by the end of the day we've hardly made a dent in our list? The challenge is that as a CIO, despite all our good intentions, the day often gets filled with interruptions and matters that require our immediate attention. There's a way to change all that, but it takes a shift in thinking.
The strategy begins by breaking the nature of our tasks into four areas, which are fairly self-explanatory:
- Urgent and important
- Not urgent and important
- Urgent and not important
- Not urgent and not important
Then we need to answer two questions about how we spend our time each day. The first question is, "How much of my day do I spend in each of the above four areas?" We all have a sense of how we spend our time, but the reality can be quite a different story. One way to get to the reality is to note which area each task falls into over the course of a day or two. Maybe this seems a bit simplistic, but the results will be revealing and will offer some great insights.
The second question to answer is, "Ideally, in which of the four areas do I want to spend the majority of my day?" Surprisingly, many people answer this wrong. (Which helps explain why time management is an ongoing issue!) Many CIOs will decide that their time is best spent on the urgent and important, and this answer is wrong. The explanation lies in understanding what "Urgent and Important" tasks represent. Most people would describe these tasks as "fires." Spending the majority of our time on the "Urgent and Important" means we're spending our day putting out fires.
The truth is, if we are to be highly productive, we need to minimize the fires and spend the majority of our time on important tasks before they become urgent. We are in our most productive state -- effective and creative -- when we aren't in a state of stress or duress.
However, we can't get to work on important matters before they become urgent if we are constantly dealing with fires. Fires are things that truly require our immediate attention. The key to high productivity with regard to fires, once you have dealt with them, is to work to keep them from happening again. How do you do that?
It starts by understanding that the fire is a symptom rather than a problem. Work to uncover the underlying problem and then solve it. Usually the solution is fairly straightforward once the problem is identified. (It's uncovering the problem that's the challenge.)
Now that we've addressed how to minimize the fires in our day, let's turn our attention to how to keep the "Important" tasks from becoming "Urgent." The key is to be self-disciplined enough to work on and complete important tasks before you “have to.” Develop the habit of dealing with responsibilities as they come to you instead of waiting to the last minute. This allows you to be as efficient and as creative as possible.
By the way, the other two areas -- the "Not Important" ones -- are generally made up of tasks that are best delegated to others or postponed to times of low personal energy – perhaps late in the afternoon or after normal business hours. In a future article, I'm going to talk about delegation and how best to do it.
Until then, work on addressing the important issues before they become urgent if you want to start being more productive.