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A lawyer-friend and I were discussing how, at the end of each year, our clients try to fit in all the projects/cases they didn’t get to throughout the year. It’s true for the majority of us: The winding-up of the year resembles some kind of deadline that, real or imagined, causes us to end up with very long to-do lists where all the items feel like it MUST be done.

If you’re in an industry like ours you will often find your task-list much longer than realistically possible to tick off. You look at it and think ‘Where on earth do I start? What do I do first?! It all looks important!’

In situations like these, I use the Eisenhower Matrix to help me prioritise the tasks and decide which ones to work on first.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the USA, served as a general in the US  Army, as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II and also later NATO’s first supreme commander. Talk about having to continuously make tough decisions! Dwight developed the now world-famous Eisenhower principle, which prioritises a task based on its urgency and importance.

Do First

Some tasks are both urgent and important. They are your first priority and should be worked on first. E.g. paying staff salaries on payday or the tax deadline that is tomorrow. Basically everything important that comes with a deadline. To me, they are the easiest to identify.

Schedule

The next easily identifiable tasks are those that are important but not urgent. They must get scheduled into your calendar to ensure they are completed timeously. Professional Time-Managers feel you should spend the majority of your time on tasks in this category to safeguard against an important task ever becoming urgent as well. It takes a lot of self-discipline but is completely worth the feeling of control you gain from doing so. Examples include having an important conversation with someone, going for a health check-up or drafting your marketing strategy for the year. After you’ve completed your Do First tasks, you should do these Schedule tasks next. They are your 2nd priority.

The next two categories can be a little blurry.

Delegate

Priority 3 are those items that are urgent but not so necessary for you to complete personally. Sometimes we just have to do them, but mostly they are the perfect candidates for delegation. This could be someone asking you for prices, dealing with clients’ queries on products or balancing your books. If you stop and look around there will most likely be a team member or another business or even software/apps that could take care of the majority of these items. These are the tasks you eliminate, automate or delegate.

Kill Off

Tasks that are neither important nor urgent. If you look at it and ask, ‘is this really necessary?’ then it shouldn’t be on your task-list. These could include needless reports, attending meetings unnecessarily, replying to each and every email, re-organising your desk. Basically, it’s anything that isn’t truly moving your projects forward. These tasks can creep onto your list and take up an enormous amount of time if you’re not careful. They need to go. Cross them off and move along.

What is important here is to not spend too much time categorising your tasks. It is more important to actually do them! I allow myself about 15 minutes in the morning to arrange my task-list and choose the most important 3 of the Do First tasks. I try to do 1 or 2 of them first before I even look at my email or phone. This way I ensure that my priorities are set by me, not by someone else.

* Eisenhower Quadrants courtesy of Eisenhower.me

Written by Lourita Stofberg