In our previous article we learnt about setting goals. Now my question to you is: Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were puzzled about which goals you should first focus upon? Thus, your goals are your priorities and which goal you should focus upon first is the art of prioritizing.
Now, let us discuss in detail the nuances of prioritisation and how it can be for our advantage in effective planning and time management.
Understanding the concept of prioritization – from the perspective of Top Leadership Trainer in India:
Prior to getting into the insights of prioritization, let me tell you a small story.
Mihir is a very busy manager and does not find time for his family. Taking care of his family is the most important goal in his life, but he is unable to fulfil it because he is caught up by various other activities that are taking him away from this goal. Somewhere in his life, he has lost this priority.
To be able to prioritise our goals well, let us first understand the meaning of this concept.
Prioritisation means putting things in order of importance. More attention, energy and time should be given to the task which holds higher value than others.
A point well and timely raised by the trainer during a leadership training in Delhi underlined the importance of prioritising, saying that – “It is an essential skill, which is used when time is limited and demands are limitless.” Learning the art of prioritisation will help you significantly in managing time intelligently, keeping yourself and your team free from less important tasks that can postponed to a later date. It helps to control chaos and reduce stress.
Prioritization is deciding between activities/tasks that should be done and that are not to be done. For effective prioritization, it is vital to differentiate things as urgent and important.
There is a very interesting principle called Pareto’s Principle, which is used by most corporate trainers across the globe today.
Pareto’s principle directs you to focus on only 20 per cent of work that will bring you 80 per cent of results. Similarly, at the time of accomplishing goals, you must focus on those 20 per cent of the goals that are most essential for you, as that will bring maximum results in the long run.
Let us take an example for better understanding of this 80:20 principle
For instance, 20 per cent of your employees generate 80 per cent of the revenue. In this case, you should try to focus your time on managing those 20 per cent employees. This will keep them happy, satisfied and motivated to continue to work towards achieving the 80 per cent of the goal and strive towards improving their performance.
Suppose 20 per cent of your clients give you 80 per cent of business; then you must try to pay attention and focus on those 20 per cent, as they are the most crucial.
Thus, this principle helps you identify your “most essential goals” and increases your efficiency, as it guides you to use your time in accomplishing what is important. Just like the Sun gives light to all, this principle is applicable to everyone, everywhere.
Urgent-Not Important – DECIDE WHEN
Not Urgent-Important – DELEGATE
Not Urgent-Not Important: DUMP
Figure 6.1: 4Ds of Effective Prioritisation
There are two parameters on which we can prioritise our day to day activities – “urgent” and “important”.
- Urgent activities: These are tasks that are critical and demand immediate attention.
- Important activities: These tasks that are significant and must be done.
Now there are four dimensions (I will call them D1, D2, D3 and D4) of these two parameters. These dimensions help us to identify those 20 per cent activities that we need to focus on, so as to accomplish our goals.
- D1: Urgent and important– These are critical and significant activities like dealing with a house on fire, taking an accident victim to hospital,
- D2: Not urgent but important– These are our priorities and goals. These tasks do not require fire-fighting, but definitely require attention more than any other dimension. These activities get us success and they take us closer to our goals. This dimension contains all the 20 per cent of the tasks that we need to focus on.
- D3: Urgent but not important– These activities are critical but they are not important for you. For example, if a friend has a deadline for creating a presentation that begins in an hour, it is D1 for him but not for you.
- D4: Not urgent and not important– These activities are usually time-wasters and must be eliminated from our schedule completely, if we want to be productive. I have discussed them in detail in chapter eight and have also shared ways to eliminate them.
Since there are four dimensions, I wanted to offer prioritizing solutions that are easy for us to remember. So I came up with the 4D Formula to maximize productivity.
Do the tasks in D1
Decide when to do the tasks in D2
Delegate the tasks in D3
Dump the tasks in D4
During a training program by conducted an International behavioural trainer in India, it was spot-on pointed out that most of us get stuck on the first dimension (D1) and are therefore always fire-fighting. This results in a lot of stress. Then, we have friends who are fire fighting and like Good Samaritans, we start helping them fight their battles as well. So the rest of the time goes away in D3. So much frustration builds up and there is so much stress, that we find respite in wasting time in D4.
So what happened to D2, where 80% of our capacity lies?
D2 gets completely ignored because of the non-urgency. You may ask ‘What do we do then?’
Follow the 4 Ds– Do, Decide, Delegate and Dump. It is actually as easy as it sounds— when you know how to do it.
But before that, you must understand why you should do it.
My 4Ds are going to help you:
- Feel refreshed and energised instead of tired and stressed.
- Feel confident and happy about yourself instead of indulging in self-pity.
- Find trust in yourself instead of doubt.
- Find focus instead of being overwhelmed.
- Feel liberated instead of getting stuck.
How to practice the 4Ds
Imagine that there are different sizes of rocks, pebbles, sand and water that you need to fill in a glass jar. If you fill the jar with water first, you will not be able to put anything else in it. If you try, the water will spill out. If you were to fill it with sand and then try the rest of the things, they won’t fit. The only way to fill the jar with everything is by putting the big rocks first and then put everything else in decreasing order of size and finally top it up with water.
That is what we have to learn — how to put in our big rocks first. Big rocks are the tasks in D2.
Do not wait on these activities. They are urgent and important. They must be done; the sooner, the better. However, what you can do to minimise tasks in D1 is take care of some of them when they are still only important. For example, my goal is a comfortable lifestyle. Now one of the things I need for that is electricity. So I must pay my electricity bill on the day it comes and not wait for the deadline. The moment the deadline stares you in the face, it creates stress.
Keep your maximum time reserved for D2. Focus all your energy and plan in the planning template for the most important goals. Gauge your activities according to the degree to which they align with your goals. Keep your most productive time slots for activities in this dimension. Make decisions and find solutions. Think, contemplate and take action. Spend most of your time on D2.
As already discussed, D3 is somebody else’s D1. It is not your urgent activity and therefore these tasks are not important. Of course, it is good to help people. But do that only when you are stress free. Do not add the burden of these activities in your planner.
When you have minimised tasks in D1 and delegated tasks in D3, you will notice that most of your stress automatically gets reduced. Here, I have with me my friend who is a noted CEO coaching trainer agreeing with me that when there is minimum stress, you do not feel the need for an escape and then eliminating time wasters will come easily to you.
Use the worksheet at the end of this chapter to find out your D1, D2, D3 and D4 activities.
Remember, I want you to:
- Feel refreshed and energised
- Feel confident
- Find trust in yourself
- Find focus
- Feel liberated
Take a step back and introspect which dimension is taking up most of your time. The aim should be to focus all your energies on D2 and eliminating all or most of the tasks in D3 and D4.
Revisiting the learning activity: Prioritise your goals
You created this list in chapter three. Now after understanding the four dimensions, I would request you to revisit these goals and see if you want to change priorities within this list.
This article was meant to make you aware of the importance of the 20 per cent tasks that will yield 80 per cent of the benefits. We also discussed ways to identify and work towards accomplishing these tasks.