We all have things we’d like to do. So many in fact that I always recommend writing them down in a to-do list. A well-designed to-do list not only lets you capture all the vague tasks you’d like to do at some point, it also lets you prioritise what to work on now and what can wait.
One of the most powerful productivity illustrations is called an Eisenhower matrix. I have talked about it in previous posts but I will provide a sample under here in case you aren’t familiar with the matrix.
Broadly speaking, a task can fall into one of four quadrants:
- Important and not Urgent (Deep work)
- Important and urgent (Emergencies)
- Not important and Urgent
- Not important and not urgent (Mindless web browsing)
My focus today is on the Important and not urgent quadrant. This is where you want to be. A lot of people can identify their important tasks but only a few make out time in their schedule to work on those tasks. Students delay working on their assignments until the last minute and then pull an all-nighter just so they can have something to submit. If only they had started earlier, they would have had more time, done more research and are more likely to have gotten a higher grade.
The reality is most people are stuck in the Emergency quadrant. They start important tasks only when the task can no longer be delayed without incurring a penalty. I call this time management by crisis and I can say it is a very nerve-wracking and inefficient way to “manage time.”
Responding to every important task only when it becomes an emergency makes it impossible for you to do deep work. Once you get stuck in the quadrant of emergencies, the aim is just to get the task done regardless of quality. You are more likely to produce rough and shoddy work that can never compare to a masterpiece. Completing important tasks before they become emergencies will not only influence the quality of your output but will also reduce your stress levels. What could be better than finishing your tasks on time and going to bed at a decent hour. Join me next week to learn more about why you should block out time for deep focus.