The Big Idea
Priorities separate the busy from the productive.
Questions I Answer
- How can I figure out which tasks to prioritize?
- What can I do to stop feeling overwhelmed?
- How can I be more productive?
- How can I organize my to do list?
Key Topics in the Show
Learn the definition of overwhelm and how to tackle it.
Understand the two questions you can ask to help you focus on priorities.
How a technique developed in WWI can apply to our daily lives.
Discover how the Eisenhower Matrix can streamline your days.
Understand the difference between urgent and important tasks.
Resources and Links
- PRODUCTIVITY TIP: inkWELL Press products (Daily Planner, Weekly Classic Planner, and Priority List Inserts) include the priority list to use in your 360° Disc Planner!
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is episode six. Today we are going to be talking about focusing in on our priorities. Now over the course of the last few episodes, we have set our goals, we’ve designed our mission statement and even a family mission statement. Now it’s really important to use that to find and act upon our priorities and the problem is it can be really hard to know what your priorities are, both the long term and even the short term priorities, when we live such hectic lives. There’s so much that needs to get done each and every day and we don’t want to get into that trap of feeling busy. When really we’re just procrastinating on our priorities.
You can ask yourself two questions. Question one, what can I and only I do that if done well will really make a difference. Question two, what’s the most valuable use of my time right now. That seems pretty easy right? Just two questions. They’re really hard to answer. Right? Let’s take a step back and look at a real world example. We’re going to go through a little bit of an exercise and talk about how you really can answer these questions.
In thinking about people who are busy, let’s go back to World War I, to the French army. Who were … They were looking for a way to save as many lives as possible during the war. Their dressing stations behind the lines were swamped with wounded soldiers and there were far too many for the doctors and nurses to treat effectivity. There was so much confusion that it caused the doctors not to know where to start. Remember that definition of overwhelmed that I talk about? Not knowing where to start. This is a real example of that. Can you imagine walking into these dressing stations with all of these wounded soldiers, all of whom need your help and you don’t really know where to start and you want to make the greatest difference possible. Doctors are no different from you and me. They need a place to start. So the French army developed the triage method. Now the triage method divided the soldiers into three different groups.
Group one, these were the soldiers that would only survive if they were treated immediately. The nurses and the doctors focused on helping them first. Doctors would start here when they went onto their rotations because they were the freshest and they were able to make really good, on their feet decisions. They focused on group one.
Then they had group two and these were the soldiers that had light wounds. These soldiers would survive whether they got immediate attention or not. They were set in a separate group to be treated quickly, but they were treated as a secondary priority, because they knew they were going to survive. Doctors could rotate here after being in group one because it wasn’t as stressful and they could take their time with each of the soldiers.
Then you have group three and this unfortunately, was made up of the soldiers that were going to die no matter what happened. They were set aside in this separate group and they really focused in on making them comfortable. They didn’t even have to be doctors in this group. There could be nurses or volunteers who really just focused in on helping the soldiers feel comfortable and listening to them.
The doctors were needed most in these first two groups, so they spent the majority of their time there. By placing the soldiers into these three groups, they were really able to make a significant difference in the mortality rates. They were able to place people in the correct groups so they could affect change at a much
higher rate. The priority was to focus in on the places where it made the most difference. The staff could focus in on the group that really needed them most. Volunteers knew they could go to group three and make a difference.
Now the triage method can be applied to our lives as well. Again you can have three priority groups if you wanted. Priority room, important tasks that could be solved if you act immediately. These are times that are important and they’re urgent. Then you could have priority two, important tasks that are not as urgent. These are times that are important to you and work towards your goals, but they’re not as time sensitive as priority one times. Then you have priority three, issues that are not important but are still time sensitive. These need to be addressed relatively soon, but they’re not tasks that are going to help you move forward towards those ultimate goals.
Now some could argue you could have fourth priority and this would be similar to the Eisenhower Matrix. That would be for issues that are unimportant and non urgent. If you’re not familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix, it’s an organizational system that was deigned by our thirty-fourth president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Who is considered by most historians as our most productive president of all time.
Stephen Covey actually based his methods in his Seven Daily Habits book off the Eisenhower Matrix. He didn’t come up with that system, he piggybacked off of Eisenhower’s. I’d like to think of these [inaudible 00:05:22] priorities as not being part of your list at all, because quite frankly they shouldn’t be labelled as priorities. They should be listed as things to avoid or things to delegate to others, because they are not the items on your list that are going to be moving you towards your ultimate goals in any way. They’re essentially, time wasters.
What I think is most effective is really a marriage of both the Eisenhower Matrix and the Triage Method. Let’s start by defining what we mean for each priority level. What makes something important and what makes it urgent? I think there’s a lot of blurred lines here, because we get caught in that trap of what’s important and what’s urgent and we’re looking for the thing that’s really shouting the loudest at us, which tends to be the things that are urgent. These are the things that are time sensitive and they must be focused on immediately. When you look at your to do list, these are the items on your list that have the exclamation marks or the arrows pointing at them.
Important items are things that contribute to our long term mission. Our values, our goals and really the end result we’re looking for. Which word do you think best defines a space that you want to spend most of your time. Urgent or important?
Urgent mode, is going to put us in a situation of defense because we are working against the clock. Importance, puts you in a responsive situation and allows you to stay level headed and focused. When I put it in those terms, it seems pretty
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obvious right? We want to spend most of our time in importance mode over urgency. Where should you focus the majority of your time in thinking about importance over urgency?
Priority two, important and not urgent. It seems almost crazy not to say priority one. Am I right? Especially with the bombardment of news channels that are on twenty-four hours a day, social media, things like that. It feels like we end up spending a lot of our time in urgency mode. We get priority blindness, because urgency is so loud. It’s the thing that’s shouting at you. It’s the siren going off saying, “You have to get this done right now!” Don’t get me wrong, priority items absolutely need our first attention, because it is after all items that are important and urgent. You want to get to the point where you aren’t dealing with priority one tasks as much, because you create a roadmap for yourself. You’re not leaving those important things for the last minute, so they’re not screaming at you.
There will be times, of course, that you don’t have a choice. Maybe your boss gives you a last minute presentation or some emergency pops up suddenly like your internet goes down. There are some times where you’re not going to be able to control what’s in priority one, but for the things that are in your control, you want to stay in priority two.
Let’s talk about these different tiers. The different priority levels and we’re going to break them down a little bit and talk about each one of them. Don’t worry about taking notes. I know you’re probably sitting in your car right now or working out. What I want you to do is go to our show notes after you listen to this, which you can find at inkwellpress.com/podcasts and they’ll be under episode six. You can go through each one of these and take your time after listening here if you want more information. Let’s go ahead and review them.
Priority one. When focusing on your priorities you do want to start with this top tier, because these are the things that are important and urgent. These are still [tasks 00:08:55] that are working towards fulfilling those long term goals or mission and they require immediate attention. Examples of things in priority one might be a term paper with an eminent deadline. An email from your boss that affects a project that requires you to work quickly to change something or your car breaks down. You just don’t want to spend all your time here, because by being in a sense of urgency mode you’re in that beat the clock mode. Kind of a defensive position. If you’re planning more you can eliminate a lot of these priority one tasks. You can schedule [inaudible 00:09:31] items that are important, so you don’t reach that state of critical emergency mode.
For example the term paper can be scheduled out so it’s finished with plenty of time. Thus, also doing a better job for a higher grade and making it non urgent. The car can be taken in for regular maintenance so it does not break down. We really want to try to avoid urgent situations whenever possible, but you’ll never be able to eliminate them all together because sometimes it’s out of our hands.
That leads us to priority two, which as I mentioned is where you want to spend the majority of your time. Important and non urgent areas of focus. These are the
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tasks that are important because they work towards fulfilling your long term goals or your mission and they don’t have a pressing deadline. These are generally activities, to be honest with you, that move you closer, faster to your end goals because they’re focused around future planning and improvement of yourself.
Examples of priority two tasks might be creating a budget plan. Taking a course to improve yourself. Working on long term projects. Being in a situation without a looming deadline allows you really to do your best work because you have the time to really push yourself and give yourself time to think of creative solutions. You’re not in panic mode where you can’t think clearly. But honestly, because there’s no sense of urgency, we tend to place these items on the back burner until they finally ignite and we end up feeling like we’re fighting a wildfire with a garden hose. We need to place the most emphasis on these tasks because this is the tier where you’re really going to make the leaps and the bounds with your personal growth, because you have the time to tend to it. That is priority two.
Then we get to priority three. We want to spend as little time in this tier as possible, because it’s unimportant and urgent. It’s still screaming in your ear because it’s urgent, but these are the tasks that don’t really help you focus on your mission or your end goals. With that pressing deadline they tend to get to the forefront and they tend to get worked on first. This is mostly interruptions from other people or people pushing on their own agenda onto you.
Examples of this would be phone calls, probably the majority of the emails you receive every day and volunteering for or rather being pressured to accept a project or even that does not align with your personal goals. This is what I like to call the “good girl syndrome”. Where you just can’t say no when someone asks you to do something. This is the perfect place to weed through and figure out what it is you actually do want to spend your time doing and how you want to focus your energy. A lot of us end up spending time in priority three mode, because it is urgent and it’s screaming out at us, but it is not aligning with our goals and it’s not moving us forward.
Don’t worry if that sounds a lot like you, because it sounds a lot like most of us. We all have trouble saying no from time to time and we’re actually going to be tackling this specifically in our very next episode. So if you feel like, “Oh no. I’m a priority three person. I’m spending a lot of time there.” We’re going to work on this together. No worries. We’re going to get through this.
Then we have priority four and this is really where I take that polite departure from the Eisenhower Matrix, because these are the items that are unimportant and non urgent. So I don’t bother writing these things down, because they’re not priorities in any way, shape or form. They’re really best described as time wasters. In my opinion, even the task of writing them out is precious time that I don’t want to waste. I like to bank up my time, so I bank up that time to create extra pockets of time later that I used to my own benefit.
Examples of priority four would be checking your social media, mindlessly surfing the web, binge watching TV shows. Now, don’t get me wrong we all need
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breaks and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of down time for your brain. I mean we can’t constantly work towards our goals or we’ll burn out, so it’s good to take some downtime. You want to decompress, but if you look at the time you’re spending on these time wasters and it’s taking up a big chunk of your time, it really is impeding on you reaching your goals. We need to take some of these off your plate and schedule in some downtime. Did I just say schedule in downtime? Wow. That sounds really type A. Am I right? Really, scheduling in mind breaks or setting a timer for how long you can pursue these decompression times really doesn’t make you type A. It’s just a way of creating a limited container for these breaks. That way you don’t loose yourself in a rabbit hole of watching five hours of a TV show you just binge watched.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten up off the couch and realized you just spend four hours watching a TV show. Because if you could see me right now, my hand is up in the air. We’ve all done it. These are actually the tasks that we want to
avoid. It’s one thing if it’s a snow day, absolutely fine or you’re taking the day off, that’s great. But if it’s taking away time from you working on your goals or your mission, you really want to limit that. That’s the benefit of scheduling that in or setting a timer. Priority four, we’re taking those off our plate all together and we’re not writing them down.
What I want you to do this week is I really want to encourage you to use this method to prioritize your weekly to do list. Okay, you are writing a weekly to do list. Correct? Because if you’re not, I want to encourage you to do that first. I like to sit down on Sunday’s. I sit down, I have a weekly [kickstart 00:15:40] notepad, so I do this myself and what I do is I write down all the things that need to get done. I like to have a snap shot of my week. To see what are the big things going on in the week ahead. Then what I do is I prioritize them. I even have a spot for my weekly top five. Then each day I list out my tasks in order of their tier. This allows me to focus in on the places I want to spend my time. Priority two as much as possible.
Every day, at the start of the day, I go with ten minutes of planned focus time. Where I figure out what I want to do each day to make it feel successful. Here’s the catch, while still being achievable. Then I plug them in my planner and I block off time in my day to handle those. That way I’m ensuring my success. I’ve got it figured out. I know what I need to get done for the week and then I break it down into each days tasks and I prioritize them.
If you take the time to prioritize it’s really going to give you the focus and the stamina you need to tackle the things on your list that are truly important to you. Because you’re not going to wear yourself out dealing with the extra [inaudible 00:16:53] of your day. All of those tasks that are urgent and unimportant or even important and urgent, you don’t want to prioritize based off time. You want to base it off of your mission and your goals, so important items always go first.
In our next episode we’re going to be talking about how to say no. We’re going to be honing in really on that priority three level, because that’s where a lot of us end up spending some of our time and time that we could get rid of and spend on our priority two tasks. Then after we talk about how to say no, our episode after that
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will actually follow up on finding your yes. So it’s not just about saying no, no, no, no, no all the time. It’s also about saying yes to those things that are going to make a difference for you. Don’t worry, we’re going to continue working on prioritizing over the course of the next few podcasts and as always we’ll be doing this together. I’ll be with you, side by side. We’ll be doing some exercises and activities to help you figure out how you can weed through some of these tasks and really focus in on the priories that are important to you.
Now as always, I love to connect with you. You can find me at inkwellpress.com or connect with me on social media. I am very active on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You can find me under the user name InkWELL Press. I love to have conversations there and connect with you. Until next time, happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton is a female productivity expert and keynote speaker. Her talks are motivating and inspiring since they are full of actionable steps and strategies for time management, habits, goal setting and purpose.