I am an excellent procrastinator!
I can put things off for absolutely no better reason than I don’t feel like doing them right now. Of course, I have plenty of excellent excuses, and I believe all of them.
Until I choose not to.
So I force myself to do the stuff I don’t really feel like doing and keep at it until I do feel like doing it. Until that moment where I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I learned the real origin of that phrase, by the way, in 1993. The Standedge Tunnel is the longest and highest canal tunnel in England on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal between Diggle and Marsden. I lived, at the time, right above the tunnel. It was closed when I lived there, slowly being renovated to allow pleasure boats to go through. I would often break through the barriers blocking the entrance to walk through the tunnel with visitors to enjoy this unique piece of history.
Not only is the tunnel long, it has a bend. And in the 1800’s you had to “leg it” to propel your barge through. The horses would be taken over the hill to rejoin the boat on the other side.
This was a hard slog and on the way from Diggle to Marsden, tired barge “leggers” would be happy to come around the bend and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I learned a couple of things from my mentor, Dr John C. Maxwell, that has helped me and many other enormously in getting stuff done. Better still, getting the right stuff done.
Here are five keys to getting (the right) stuff done:
- Make choices
- Use the Pareto or 80/20 Principle
- Understand if it is important and/or urgent
- Apply the 3 R’s, and
- Use the Rule of Five
The Problem is procrastination… or is it?
One of the main reasons you and I procrastinate is that we don’t want to give up our options.
And it’s a real dilemma. Just today I had to make a choice about a sandwich to eat for lunch. If I took the steak sandwich that meant I couldn’t (or shouldn’t at least) take the chicken avocado sandwich.
- IF I do this, then I won’t be able to do that.
- What if I make the wrong choice?
- What if I should have chosen differently.
And then, we’ll go through past decisions to guide current thinking. But the past is filled with the regrets of “if only”.
- If only I had not started smoking when I was 9 years old, perhaps today I would not be suffering heart disease.
- If only I hadn’t done that thing first, I wouldn’t be facing this problem today.
- You and I battle these two enemies of making choices through every decision. Maybe you’ve gotten over the doubts for some things, but other matters will leave you prevaricating for hours.
- Ask a man to choose a paint colour from a chart. Ask a woman to choose just a single pair of shoes.
So secret number 1 is that we have to make choices.
There are limited time and energy available in a day. The secret to getting the right stuff done is choosing to do the right stuff!
Duh, John, of course it is. But how do I choose the “right stuff”?
I’m glad you asked.
The second secret key to getting the right stuff done is identifying whether the thing is important and/or urgent
Most clients when I ask them, tell me that they prioritise based on urgency trumping importance. That is they do the stuff that they should delete because it is urgent and then don’t have time to do the stuff that matters.
This leads to stress and lack of accomplishment.
Great leaders know the difference between being busy and accomplishment. It really doesn’t matter how busy you are. It’s what you achieve that makes a difference.
This was one of my big weaknesses. And, if I am not careful, can easily be again. I can easily get distracted by something new and shiny… especially some new technology. I am getting better, but it still requires my self-discipline and diligence to keep this up.
Time and again I hear excuses from people that they didn’t have time to do something.
They’ll tell me, for example, that their kids or their family are the most important thing in their life. They mean it too. But then the boss demands that they work late and they don’t get home in time before the kids are fast asleep. Or holidays get interrupted by the urgent need to finish an unnecessary report. Your sleep gets disturbed by the beep of an email from your control freak boss in the middle of the night. So you awake grumpy in the morning and snarl through those precious few moments with your spouse and offspring as you dash from shower to a waiting taxi.
Assessing the relative importance of your daily or weekly tasks is crucial to understanding what you should focus your attention on, and what might just be stealing your time and effort. And yes, it may well be that your boss is causing the urgency of trivial matters, but it is up to you to deal wth it appropriately. And if it is trivial and someone else could or should be doing it, then put on your big brave pants and delegate it.
Of course, to measure the importance of something you will need to know its purpose and your goal, but that’s for another day and another podcast.
Our third Secret is to apply the 80/20 rule or Pareto Analysis.
Once I know what is important and what is urgent, I need to identify my top 20% priorities. Because these are going to give me 80% of my production and results.
The idea of Pareto analysis is that 20% of activity produces 80% of the result. It follows pretty well throughout all aspects of life. 20% of the salespeople deliver 80% of the sales. 20% of your products deliver 80% of your profit. In the same way, 20% of your own effort produces 80% of your results.
It follows that your top 20% priorities would be the things that deliver 80% of your production and results.
And because you are important and highly talented, you want your Top 20% priorities to be mostly things that you are the best person to be doing. That’s where key 4 comes into play:
Our fourth key is to apply the 3 R’s
Again, it was Dr. John C. Maxwell who suggests this, and I have shared this with many clients as it works well and better than other ways of prioritising or so-called “time management.” We use the Three R’s of prioritisation
The Three R’s of Prioritisation:
- What is REQUIRED of me? Any realistic assessment of priorities in any area of life must start with a realistic assessment of what you must do. For you to be a good spouse or parent, what is required of you? To satisfy your employer, what must you do? If you lead others, then what must you personally do that cannot be delegated to anyone else?
- What gives me the greatest RETURN? As you progress in your career, you begin to discover that some activities yield a much higher return for the effort than others. After determining requirements, focus on choices with a high return on investment (ROI).
- What gives me the greatest REWARD? If you do only what you must, along with what is effective, then you will probably be highly productive. But you may not be content. I think it’s also important to consider what gives you personal satisfaction.
Note: These questions are meant to be asked IN ORDER. Many of us would love to skip down to #3 and focus on the most rewarding/fun/exciting activities. But no one can be successful who doesn’t possess the discipline to take care of the first two areas before adding the third.
You take your list of (important not urgent or important and urgent) things and pass them through the three tests. Anything that can or should be done by someone else needs to be, well, done by someone else (i.e. you Delegate it). And make sure that you keep some things in reward or you will be highly productive and miserable.
This is all well and good, John, but there are some very important things that I must do because it is my job but I am not especially good at doing them and I don’t really enjoy them either.
This is often the result of that great work of fiction you call your CV or Resume. That experience that helped you land the job that had a tiny element of exaggeration in it, or the fancy job title that really didn’t quite capture your actual tasks. It’s OK, I understand, I was called a manager for many years when most of the time I was actually cleaning toilets, changing beds, working a bar, waiting on tables, and washing the pots.
And there are some things that you really need to do that will progress your career or business, and right now, you ain’t that good at them. Many of you want to develop your softer skills, your EQ and your influencing skills. But the deliberate practice of them simply doesn’t fit into your schedule. They are important, not so urgent and definitely required of you and will provide a great return later.
Such things are ideal for our fifth secret key, the rule of five.
Another John C Maxwell favourite of mine. The rule of five is simply an easy to remember list of things that you need to do every single day.
They are part of your Top 20% (important) priorities and they need to be done daily.
The basis is simple. If you have a tree that you need to chop down and you take an axe to that tree every day and take just five swings of the axe at that tree. Eventually that tree will come down.
- If you want to get better at building relationships, for example, decide that every day, you will greet five people with a smile and an appropriate greeting.
- If you want to grow your business, you might choose to connect with five new people every day.
- If you want to spend time at home with your kids, you might dedicate just five minutes every day, one on one time with each child before work. (you might think that’s very little time, but that’s more than most working parents manage to do!)
Your rule of five is the things that are so important to you and your future that they must be done every single day.
It is five important things that are important (and not urgent)
And they are:
- Required of you, and
- Give you the Greatest Return, and
- Give you the greatest reward (now or in the future)
- and they are a Top 20% priority, and
- need to be done every day.
The flow chart here shows you the decision process on how to prioritise all of your regular daily or weekly (or monthly) tasks and activities.
The best way of approaching your radical Getting Stuff Done makeover is to make a list of everything that you do on a daily basis.
If this next week is a typical week for you. Grab a notepad or your phone and note what you do each day (and I mean detailed). Keep at it throughout the day, noting what you did and for how long. Use your schedule to remind you if needed, or even keep an accurate track of everything with one of those activity trackers on your computer and phone.
- Then, from your long list, identify important and urgent.
- Was it Required, Return or Reward?
- Is it a top 20% priority
- And every single day?
- Delete everything that is not important and not urgent.
- Delegate everything that can or should be delegated
- Date everything (that is schedule) that you should focus your attention on (top 20%), and
- Do everything that is both important and urgent.
Invest your time this coming week in this process (you can use or adapt this spreadsheet for the purpose) and within another couple of weeks, once you apply these five secret keys you will wonder what would have happened if you had done this sooner or perhaps if only you had done this sooner you would now be much healthier, happier and so much more productive and yet seemingly effortlessly.
You too will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel.