This is a slightly longer post to normal. However, I have found this to be the most important thing I have learnt over the last few years (I’ve also used bold to make the main points stand out if you’d like to skim through!).
Imagine the most successful person you can think of. They may be famous or you may know them personally (they may be both!) Now think about how this person acts. Think about what they do in daily life. If you’re not sure then ask them (or maybe google it!) I can almost guarantee that they all focus on achieving this one thing. One little secret for success.
Have you ever had one of those days where you were worked off your feet and never stop? Chances are on those days you have been asked to do something for a colleague. Or you had someone appear and ask you to help with something that you weren’t expecting. Or maybe it was all of those emails that just kept coming in throughout the day.
Whatever was causing you to be crazy busy on that day was probably a distraction. It was probably something that you weren’t planning on doing before you started the day.
The four quadrants
Every task we do in life falls under one of the following quadrants:
- Important and urgent
- Important and not urgent
- Not important and urgent
- Not important and not urgent
I’m going to give an example scenario to describe each of these tasks and some real-life examples in brackets just for good measure.
SCENARIO- Stranded on a desert island
Think of the film Castaway. First Tom Hanks found shelter for him to get out of the rain. It was not important, as he wouldn’t have chosen to do this if he didn’t have to but it was urgent because of the weather (quadrant 3- such as stopping what you’re doing at work to do a favour for a colleague).
He then searched the island for any type of civilisation. I would actually class this as not important and not urgent at the time. There were more important things needed to be done before this and he was just hoping someone else could save him (quadrant 4- e.g. playing candy crush in your lunch break).
After gasping for a drink he caught some water from the rain, which was important and urgent to survive (quadrant 1- just like completing a project at work by a deadline).
He eventually realised he could set up a system to catch the rainwater. He made a fire (“Look what I have created!!” I love that bit!!) He taught himself how to fish more effectively (pretty cool with the spear). All of these were important, as they help save time in the future, but not urgent because there wasn’t a deadline to do this (quadrant 2- such as creating a system at work which will save time the next time you have to do it)
So what is the one thing that all successful people do?
They create a habit of spending most of their time on important but not urgent tasks (quadrant 2).
That’s it… that is the secret to success!
The majority of people will spend their time in the other 3 quadrants.
If you are anything like me when I first heard this, you will be thinking surely important and urgent tasks are the place to be?! The fact is, these tasks get done… because they are urgent. You HAVE to! The procrastination monster comes out!!
(side note- check out Tim Urban’s Ted talk
if you haven’t seen it! Very funny and relevant to everyone, worth a 15-minute watch)
The filter Checklist
They go through a few steps to make all tasks as efficient as possible:
- Eliminate- Does it need to be done?
- Automate- Can it be systemised?
- Delegate- Can someone else do it?
- Me- Do I have to do this task now?
Tasks that are not important won’t even make it past question one. They go into the bin. Tasks that are important can often be outsourced or done much more effectively and efficiently.
(ted talk- multiply your time- the main part is about 9 minutes in)
I used to have my work emails open all day and I would feel like I was just fighting fires all the time. I would make mistakes as I would open an email then get asked to do something by someone else and forget about the email.
What I have found to be a much better way is to spend 30 minutes to an hour every morning before I get into the office to go through the emails. No distractions and I get into a flow with them as a lot are often the same sort of thing. I then don’t look at them again all day. It’s more effective and efficient!
But what about all those important emails that I miss in the day? Funny enough, if they are urgent, people find a way to get in contact (the power of mobile phones!) I’ve also seen some people that put the times they check emails at the bottom of each email to let others know not to expect a reply until then.
Quite often things that I have described above are not in the same quadrant all the time. For example, once Tom Hanks created his water system, catching drops of rain from the leaves would become not urgent or important. Looking for other people to help him becomes important but not urgent.
Talking to a colleague about sports may actually be building a relationship with this person which is not urgent but it is important (quadrant 2). If this is distracting us all day from other tasks then it would become less important and fall into quadrant 4.
So it’s important to think carefully about what quadrant the task is in and be aware of it moving quadrants at different times.
Why quadrant 2?
These are those tasks that you know will help you but there is no urgency to do them. There’s no deadline, there’s no punishment for not doing them. However, they help in the future.
Use time today for a benefit tomorrow.
These are things like exercising, reading, teaching someone else how to do something, spending time getting a system in place now or writing a mission statement.
Yes, this sometimes requires more work of us today and we may have to be creative and think about it. But I guarantee the more time we spend in this quadrant, the easier things become the next day and the next.
- Check emails once a day (maybe twice if you get a lot!). Aim to reduce this to 2 times every 3 days and eventually to even once a week.
- Create folders for your emails. I use 4:
- To do later
- Rather than working through by chronological order you can normally tell by the heading where an email should go. Spending 5 minutes to sort these out really helps to go through them efficiently.
- Exercise at the same time every day. Fit it to your schedule and turn it into a habit. Habits are so easy to do… keep it up for 66 days in a row to embed it into a habit!
- Read 10 pages of a helpful book a day. If you can do this one thing you will read over 10 development books in a year.
- Write down each task you do at work throughout a week. Go through the filter checklist with each task. One week of hard work could potentially save so much time for the rest of the year (or working life!)
We are Sarah and Mike Beatty, an international teaching couple, aged 29, from England. Since mid-2015 we have got married, moved to a new continent, started a business and visited over 10 countries.
So far, on our journey, we have realised the importance of continually being willing to change for the better. This is the reason for our business name “Kaizen”, which is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement.