In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about How I prioritise my work.
Hello and welcome to episode 38 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is how do I prioritise my work. This question has been asked by so many people that I decided in this week’s podcast to answer that question.
Now I am revealing one of the new pieces of gold from my recently launched Time And Life Mastery Course in answering this question but this such a valuable piece of gold I think it is important to reveal it to all of you wonderful people.
Before we get into this week’s question I would like to say if you are struggling with discovering what you want out of life and you feel overwhelmed by all the work you have to do, then please enrol in the Time And Life Mastery Course. It is a complete course, with over 3 hours of video lessons and over 20 downloadable work and tips sheets. You also get the Time And Life Mastery Workbook AND free access to my Your Digital Life 2.0 Online Course. There is so much value in this course and one thing I can promise you is if you complete the course and follow the guidance given in the course you will become masters of your life and your time.
This is an investment in you and an investment in your future. Get yourself enrolled today and take advantage of the early bird discount.
Okay, onto this week’s question so it is now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:
This week’s question is: Carl, how do you prioritise your own work?
Okay, to start with I should give you a little background. I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done book in 2009 and that was when I decided to change from my beloved Franklin Covey Time management system and go GTD. Now When I first started with GTD, I captured everything I could. I would process, organise, review and do. But what I quickly found was I was assigning dates to almost everything I captured and these then popped up on my daily to-do list in a random mess. Some days I would have 30 tasks, other days I might only have 12. There was no order, no prioritisation and although I was getting a lot done, it felt I was not getting a lot of the important stuff done. I found I was going through my daily to-do list looking for the quick, easy tasks so I could just check off another task. You know, checking off tasks makes us all feel good, doesn’t it?
I should confess, for around two or three years that is how I operated GTD. I just began the day and tried to get as many of these daily tasks completed as soon as I could. It felt good always checking off tasks. I had things like “do student attendance” when I knew I would do that anyway because all classes began with the attendance register. I also had tasks such as “take the dog for a walk” when, again, I knew that was something I would do without having it on a to-do list. I really didn’t need reminding of those things because I just did them. I had them on my list because they were guaranteed tasks I would check off that day and it always felt good to check tasks off.
Then one day, when I was doing a weekly review, I realised that checking tasks off like this did not make me a productive person. All it meant was I was checking tasks off a list. What I began to understand was to be a more productive person I needed to make sure the tasks I was doing each day were meaningful and did actually move me towards the things that were important to me. Like my career development, writing books and helping my students improve their lives. I saw that many of the things I had on my to-lists were not doing that, they were meaningless tasks, tasks I started to call “trophy tasks” because the only thing they contributed to was the good feeling of checking off a task.
So I began looking again at the way I had my system set up and I soon discovered that all I needed was two objective tasks—tasks that moved me closer towards my goals each day—and eight other meaningful tasks that would move my projects towards completion each day. So, in total, all I needed was to focus on ten tasks a day.
These ten tasks were to form the core of my daily workflow. But I also realised there were a number of tasks that, although not important, still needed to be done. These tasks I called my “routine” tasks. These were things like “take the garbage out”, “pay my credit card bill” and “write student feedback forms”. These tasks needed doing, but they did not move any of my projects towards completion and did not contribute towards achieving my goals. I realised if I put those into my eight tasks for the day, then I would not have any room to put in my important tasks. So I created a separate list called “routines”. They came up in my daily list, but I made sure they were always at the bottom of my list and never the top.
That was the theory and it worked. There was a bit of fiddling about, I used OmniFocus at the time and I was adjusting my “perspectives” a lot to try and get the lists only showing what I wanted to see when I needed to see it. Today, I use Todoist and with the flagging system in Todoist I now have a ‘perfect’ way to remove those routine tasks from my daily lists until I need to see them, which is usually at the end of the day.
So, the way I prioritise what is important is to use what I call my “2+8 Prioritisation” method. Two objectives for the day that are almost always related to my goals and eight other tasks that are important and are project related. Daily admin and other unimportant tasks that need doing, but do not contribute to my goals or projects, are considered routines and these will be on my daily list when they need to be, but for the most part of the day are out of sight and out of mind.
The problem I see with most people’s to-do list is they become a dumping ground for unimportant work. We then schedule these unimportant tasks randomly so they come upon us when we should really be focused on our important work. Work that takes our lives forward. And as we all know our human condition is not perfect in any sense of the word and so we start checking those unimportant tasks off because of how they make us feel and we end up feeling busy, overwhelmed and exhausted, yet we have not done anything important.
What I have found over the years I have been using the 2+8 Prioritisation method is you have to get really good at deciding what is important. You have to be very strict in applying the principle. When you do your daily review at the end of the day (the Golden 10) you need to look at the list you have for tomorrow and start removing tasks so you end up with just ten. Then you look at those ten tasks and select two as your objectives for the day.
When you first start doing this it will be very hard. Your brain will rebel and tell you everything is important. You must resist. Remind yourself that your goals and your active projects are the most important things. That moving your life forward is far better than doing tasks that will not improve your life or improve you as a person.
One more advantage of this method is that by only having ten tasks per day that you focus on, you still have enough time in the day to manage those little crises that will get thrown at you every day. You know those sudden emergencies that your boss or customers throw at you at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon. This method builds in the flexibility you need to be like water (as Bruce Lee said… “be like water my friend”) and as David Allen states: no matter what you throw into a pool of water it will react accordingly whether you throw in a small pebble or a giant rock. It will react appropriately and then return to its natural state. The 2+8 Prioritisation method will do just that. It allows you to be just like water. You have the flexibility and time space to deal with crises in an appropriate way so that you can return to your natural, relaxed, productive self quickly and effectively.
Hopefully, this has helped you to understand why prioritising to some degree allows you greater flexibility and will move you closer to reaching your peak productive self. I know it is not easy, but having been through it myself I can assure you the effort is well worth it because of what you become from making these small, but significant changes in the way you operate your to-do list.
Don’t forget, if you want to take complete control of your own life and your own time, then get yourself enrolled in my 2018 edition of the Time And Life Mastery course. This is a course that will prove to be a very valuable investment in you, your future and the way you want to live your life.
Thank you for listening to this podcast and it just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.