What Makes One Rock More Important Than Another?

This is the Real Question When It Comes to Prioritization

Last week I wrote about deciding what your big rocks are. The process of putting the big rocks in the jar first works great but, most of us are trying to squeeze in too big rocks. There is a limit to the number of rocks that will fit.

So how do we decide which rock is more important than another?

Deciding what is most important and focusing on that is critical to productivity. As I researched for last week’s post, I came across an article about priorities by Mark Nevin’s. He points out the word “priority” has no plural.

The word “priority” entered the English language, via Old French, sometime in the 14th Century. Deriving from the mediaeval Latin word prioritas (“fact or condition of being prior”), the word meant “the most important thing”—the “prior” thing or the thing with precedence.  When it was first coined, the word “priority” had no plural.  You could only have one priority

Sometime in the middle of the 20th Century, almost certainly related to the rise of corporate and office culture, the word “priorities” began to appear. Now people began to claim that they had more than one “most important thing.”  They could have three or five or 14 priorities.  A client once shared with me a deck laying out his business’s “Top 30 Strategic Priorities.”  Sadly, if you have 30 priorities, you really have no priorities: no organization can even remember 30 things, never mind focus on them all.

So how do we decide which thing is the priority?

I think this is where the real battle takes place. What makes one thing more important than another? In last week’s solution I referred to Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book he shares a time management quadrant consisting of – urgent and important / not urgent but important / urgent but not important / neither urgent nor important.

We use these options for prioritizing everything we do…whether we know it or not. It’s up to us to be intentional about what goes in which quadrant.

All tasks can be categorized based on their urgency and importance: An activity can be one, both, or neither. Urgent matters are time sensitive, and they tend to grab your attention; this can be something as simple as a ringing phone. Important matters contribute toward your goals, values, and personal mission statement. We react to urgent matters, while important tasks that are not urgent require us to be proactive.

Picture a square divided into four Quadrants: One axis measures whether or not something is urgent, and the other measures whether or not it’s important. In the 7 Habits, Quadrants means four different classifications. Stephen Covey’s Quadrants 1, 2, 3, and 4 break down like this:

Quadrant 1 is urgent and important. Crises and problems live here, and life inevitably throws some Quadrant 1 tasks at all of us. However, some people seem to spend all their time constantly putting out fires and feeling like they never have time or energy to tackle anything that’s not urgent; in need of respite, they occasionally escape to the more leisurely Quadrant 4, where things are neither urgent nor important. The catch is that the more time you spend in Quadrant 1, the more you will be stuck there, because you don’t have time to do the maintenance and preventive measures that help avoid crises. 

Quadrant 3 is urgent, but not important. These kinds of activities can eat up your precious time and energy, without giving much value back to your life.  Some people don’t even realize that these matters are not important, assuming that urgency implies importance; but the urgency is often dictated by other people’s priorities and expectations — what other people tell you must get done — rather than your own goals and values. 

Quadrant 4 is neither urgent nor important. These are things you may do purely for enjoyment, or out of confusion about what’s truly important. Quadrants 3 and 4 are irresponsible uses of your time, because they contribute nothing toward your life, and effective people tend to avoid these activities. 

Quadrant 2 is not urgent, but important. This is where effective people focus their time and energy, and the discipline to prioritize these tasks is key to self-management and achieving your personal mission. Quadrant 2 includes activities that could easily be put off for their lack of apparent urgency, but which will greatly benefit your life in the long term if you invest the time in them; they include developing relationships, defining your personal mission statement, exercising, and performing preventive maintenance (e.g. oil changes for your car, health check-ups, flossing, or home maintenance). These Quadrants all help you understand and prioritize, but Quadrant 2 is where you want to spend most of your time.

Steven Covey’s 4 Quadrants: The Secret to Productivity

The things in these quadrants will be different for each of us. Ultimately it is your choice what things you decide to do and which quadrant you put them in.

This is where planning and looking forward to the end of your life and working backward helps. It gives you a clearer vision of what things should be the most important and which ones aren’t.

How I Use My Calendar to be More Productive

Investing Your Time Intentionally Is the Key to Unlocking Productivity

There are as many different ways to use calendars as there are people. Not only that, but if you’re like me, the way we use them continues to change. Not to mention, that calendars themselves keep changing. They have gone from tracking days by scratching a mark in the wall of a cave to now being computerized.

Purpose driven people are constantly looking for ways to be more productive.

I don’t know if I’m going through a phase or if getting older is making me more aware of the limited time I have to spend. Either way my desire to be more productive is at an all-time high.

When scheduling things, it is important to be flexibly rigid. This is balancing the importance of planning with intentionality and the realization that life happens. Finding that balance is hard.

One of the benefits to a computer calendar is the ease with which things can be added, shared, moved or deleted…this is also a detriment. Over the past few years I realized that I was moving things on the calendar that I had scheduled with myself. I would schedule tasks for myself on the calendar and they would get pushed back and back and back again. Then I realized I wasn’t giving meetings with myself as much importance as those with others.

Then I realized the calendar is like any other tool. It doesn’t serve its purpose if it isn’t used properly.

The first thing with any tool is to determine what its purpose(s) is and use it accordingly.

  • Scheduling meetings – The most basic purpose of a calendar is for scheduling meetings. These may be recurring meeting or one-time meetings. Scheduling our tasks as meetings with ourselves and giving them equal importance is critical to productivity.

  • Reminder of things ahead – This could be meetings, events, actions, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

  • Budgeting time – Similar to money a calendar can work like a budget for time. When you start filling out the calendar there is a limit to how much space there is. When it gets filled up, you’re going to need to stop trying to spend more.

  • Prioritizing what you spend time on – Once the calendar is full and there are still things to put on it, you must decide what goes on and what comes off. This calls for a time triage

Determine what works best for you and use your calendar accordingly.

Some days I would accomplish almost everything on my list and then there were days where it felt like I hadn’t achieved hardly anything. As I began to study why that was, it became apparent that the most productive days were the ones that I had packed the calendar full, from beginning to end, even little things. The days that were less productive had more unscheduled and open time. I realized that when my day was scheduled so full that I didn’t think I could get it all done, I was focused and did much better at staying on task.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been scheduling my calendar full, to the point of some days being scheduled tight without any open space. In doing this I have noticed that I have been consistently more productive. This doesn’t mean that everything gets done, just that I’ve been more productive.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but this seems to be working.

I still need to work on being wiser about what I spend my time on. There’s limited time so we all need to be good stewards of the time we’ve been given. Being productive requires intentional action. Productivity seems like a big monster, but we can take him out if we’ll just start implementing small steps in the right direction.