Have you caught yourself doing it? Bouncing from task to task, scrambling to meet deadlines, feeling like you’re putting out fires but never quite on top of everything? Speaking from personal experience, and in total honesty as I know you’ve come to expect from me, this is my default position. I thrive in chaos, so it suits my style, but it does take a toll on my effectiveness.
Most people have heard of the concept of the “urgent/important matrix”, popularized by Stephen Covey in the 1980’s. Dwight Eisenhower originated this principle back in the 1950’s, and it is widely known as the Eisenhower Matrix. The gist of it is that you categorize your tasks according to evaluating them on their urgency (things that must be done immediately) and importance (not usually as urgent but critical to your long-term success). Sometimes there is overlap between the two, but not as often as we may think.
Sounds nice and simple, right? Right. True confession time. It’s incredibly hard for me to implement this simple strategy with consistency.
As I write this blog, a colleague and I are supposed to be meeting for a regular working session later this morning. Both of us have failed to put this Matrix to good use currently, as we just had a quick call to reschedule our meeting for two days from now. Why? Because neither of us planned well.
STOP YOUR WORLD FOR A FEW MINUTES. I invite you to go below the surface for a moment. Let’s really think about what’s happening when you’re faced with this feeling of never-ending scrambling without getting on top of things. Honesty matters.
Here’s what I come up with when I reflect like this. My tendency towards chaos often prevents me from systematically and consistently managing my tasks to the greatest effect. There. I said it out loud. What did you come up with?
Now how do you feel about it? If you’re fine with it, you probably would have skipped right past this post. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, frustrated, or any other “if I could just…” type thoughts, ME, TOO.
So how the hell do we get on top of things?? We plan. It’s not complicated. But it’s incredibly hard to do sometimes. I’ve been working at this particular strategy for a while now (like, years. Do not judge me.) and it DOES get a little easier. Or maybe it’s just becoming a habit. But mornings like this one where I’m totally behind? I can look back at last week and see all the places where I screwed things up for myself. I’m my own worst enemy on this one.
So I plan. I start again. I make myself stop the merry-go-round that my life can all too easily become, and I plan. Here’s my process, in case it helps you.
- I make a list of all the tasks I need to get done.
- I reflect on WHY each task is on my list. If it doesn’t really belong there, I mark it as something to delegate or decline.
- I put a deadline or due date on each one (even when I am the only one setting that due date).
- I revisit the delegate or decline list and make those arrangements.
- I think about procrastination and look for traps. I break down larger, overwhelming tasks into much smaller tasks.
That’s it. And it works. When it doesn’t work, it’s not because of the process. It’s because I allowed life to take over in some way. And that, too, is cause for pause. It’s usually a reflection of not paying attention to my energy levels, being unrealistic about how much time a particular task would take, or an unforeseen event which was both urgent and important. Whatever the reason, I’ve learned that extending a little grace and kindness to myself, as I would to a colleague or client or friend, is the best way for me to get back on my feet and try again.
Go conquer the world! Or at least your task list. If you want to talk about it, let me know. And if you are willing to share your experience, we’d love to hear it. Stay safe out there and be kind.