Have you noticed how being busy is not equal to being productive? We’ve all had frustrating days when we’ve felt incredibly busy but had nothing to show for it. Equally frustrating are the days when we’re caught up in urgent matters and accomplish a lot, only to realize that we’d spent our day in meaningless pursuits. Urgent does not always equal important.
We all have things we want to accomplish for others, and ourselves—but when we cut out time for work, appointments, and other interruptions, the precious time we have remaining is scarce. Valuable.
Time is our most sacred commodity. How we use it determines our destiny. So it’s extremely important that we focus our efforts. Hyrum W. Smith has said, “When we align our choices with what matters most, we significantly increase our productivity and sense of inner peace.” We all want to be productive with our time, and we want that productivity be centered on what’s most important to us. Here are a few ways to do that.
Discover the values that govern your actions.
The things that matter most to you may not be the things that matter most to someone else. Your motivation is derived from deep within. There are things you value that move you to act, and other things that don’t interest you at all. That’s part of what makes each of us unique.
Benjamin Franklin had a list of 13 virtues that he tried to improve throughout his life. Late in his life he noted that he had done quite well with the first 12, but struggled with number 13, Humility. It’s interesting to note that ‘humility’ had been suggested to Ben by a friend after he had read Franklin’s original twelve. Although he understood the importance of humility, that virtue wasn’t rooted in Franklin’s governing values, so it made it difficult to truly aspire to it and work toward it.
What are your governing values? Before you get too far into your plans for the future, take some time to seriously ponder the things that matter most to you—the principles that motivate you to action, and write them in your planner for easy reference. It will change everything.
Determine the Roles that Matter Most to You.
A major part of improving your productivity is to understand the roles you play each day. Your planner is an ideal place to write down your roles—Mother/Father, employee, neighbor, athlete, etc. As you note the various roles you play, consider who is relying on you to act in those roles and what you might do to improve your performance. Incorporate those steps into your daily planning, and you’ll begin to see the growth you’re looking for.
Become familiar with the Time Matrix.
We spend each moment of each day doing something, but all tasks are not created equal. Stephen R. Covey found that our tasks could be categorized in a Time Matrix with two variables: Importance and Urgency. All of our activities fall into one of four quadrants depending on how important and urgent they are.
Quadrant One is Necessity. Because the tasks in this quadrant are both important and urgent, they drive us to complete them. When they’re finally finished we feel a sense of accomplishment, but we also feel anxious, exhausted, and emotionally drained. We want to drive our projects, not be driven by them.
Quadrant Two is Productivity and Balance. The tasks in this quadrant are important but not yet urgent. Working on important projects before they become urgent allows us to develop quality work, build our skill set, and grow confidence. It’s great working when we’re in control.
Quadrant Three is Deception. These tasks feel huge, but they don’t make a lot of difference in our lives. They are unimportant tasks masquerading as meaningful and urgent—but they don’t move us toward our goals. These tasks leave us feeling stressed without any sense of meaningful accomplishment.
Quadrant Four is Waste. It comes in the form of procrastination, searching the web for a prolonged amount of time, social media excursions, or video games. The list goes on forever, right? We all know our weak points. Proper planning can ensure we aren’t missing out on amazing experiences by allowing waste to creep into our day.
For more information about the Time Matrix, click here.
Set and Keep Goals.
A goal is only a wish until it’s written down and scheduled for completion. One of the greatest strengths of your planner is the power it gives you to list your goals and schedule them throughout your year. Once written, they’re always in front of you reminding you of the desire that drove you to set the goals in the first place, and encouraging you to move further toward your dreams than ever before. If you haven’t recently, set aside some time to consider where you’d like to be next month, next year, and five years from now, and create a list of goals you can schedule in your planner. It’s time to assign some deadlines to your dreams.
Prioritize Your Tasks.
Most of our planners include a Prioritized Daily or Weekly Task List. This powerful tool makes it easy to determine what you need to accomplish first each day. It’s the secret to keeping your most important matters at the center of your life.
Each day, simply write every task that you’d like to accomplish on your list, then read through your list and sort your tasks by urgency and importance with A, B, or C. Then sort all of your ‘A’ tasks by priority—1, 2, 3 etc. Do the same with your lists of B and C tasks. This powerful activity will help ensure you’re working on the tasks most closely related to your values and goals, and help you keep things in proper perspective.
Even if your planner isn’t designed with a Prioritized Daily Task List, you can incorporate the practice into your planning sessions with any of our planners by creating your own list of tasks and assigning them a priority for completion.
These steps sound simple and basic, but few people actually do them. It’s the little things consistently completed that make all the difference. Take a few minutes to seriously consider the values that govern your actions, the roles you play each day, and the importance and urgency of the tasks you perform. Then set goals that will move you to where you want to be and schedule your daily tasks to ensure you get there.
These small details can be easily overlooked each day, but they’re the secret to meaningful productivity. We feel most productive and fulfilled when we are involved in, significant, intentional activities, and not simply checking unimportant things off a list. Why not start incorporating the things that matter most to you into more of your daily activities—starting now?