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Overcoming procrastination and getting in to action

Part 2 – Understand your priorities

In the first blog post in this series we talked about how in order to get over procrastination you to first need to set your direction of travel, to understand your vision and your goals. And once you have that in place that you will be able to use it to get moving. In this post, we’re going to talk about the next step along the journey, prioritisation.

When you sit down to start sorting out your overwhelming long to-do list, you’ll probably do what I do, procrastinate, but you’ll badge it up as research into different prioritisation techniques that you can use.

If you put prioritisation techniques into a search engine, then one of the most popular tools that you’ll come across is the Eisenhower Matrix also known as the Urgent & Important Matrix.

Dwight D Eisenhower (American army general and 34th president of the United States) continually had to make tough decisions about where he needed to focus his attention each day. He famously quoted his former college professor when he said

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.

Dwight D Eisenhower

That led to the creation of the Eisenhower Matrix. The idea is simple. By categorising your activities as urgent and important, you can use the matrix to help determine what you need to do first, and perhaps more importantly what you shouldn’t be doing at all. This allows you not just to be efficient, but to be effective as well.

The Eisenhower Matrix also known as the Urgent & Important Matrix. A 2 by 2 grid to plot your to do list to aid with your prioritisation

The challenge with this technique is one of definition. How do you define urgent? Or important? How do you prevent everything ending up in the Urgent & Important box, and leaving you none the wiser on what to do first?

Let’s start breaking it down by thinking about importance. How do you decide what is important on your to-do list? When everything seems important, how do you decide what is most important?

Important activities are ones that have an outcome that leads you to achieving your goals. In the first blog in this series, I talked about the importance of having a vision, and most importantly, translating that vision into something that can always be carried with you. Now’s time for you to pull it out of your pocket and make use of it. It’s there in order to aid your decision-making process.

When you look at your to-do list, which items on it take you towards your vision? When you focus on where you want to get to, which things are then the most important? If the activity that you’re considering doesn’t move you towards that vision, then it needs to be relegated to the unimportant half of the matrix.   

Next let’s think about urgency. Urgent activities are ones which require immediate action, ones that have a consequence for not completing them. They are often important tasks for someone else, but not necessarily for you. If they can be delayed, even if only by a day, then they are not urgent, and should be shifted to the not urgent half of the matrix.

The important thing with both of these areas, is to really challenge yourself on where you put things. When I’m working with coaching clients, this is often where I focus my questions. I ask about the impact of doing something, or not doing something, about the easy thing and the hard thing to do, about what you gain from doing or not doing something, about the dependencies between the items, about what you must do before you can do anything else. All of these questions are aimed at categorising your to-do list and helping you to move forwards.

If you find that you still have an overwhelming number of activities in the important half of the matrix, then take another step backwards, and really think about how each thing fits with your overall priority. And yes, I mean priority.

Until the early 20th century, there was no such concept as priorities. That’s not to say that you didn’t prioritise what you needed to focus on, instead it was that you only you had one priority. The dictionary defines priority as “a thing that is regarded as more important than others”. The idea of having multiple priorities is therefore a fallacy. As we know from the 1980s film Highlander – “there can be only one”.

Understanding what your ultimate priority is, is a huge step in moving you forwards and helping to overcome that procrastination which you are suffering from. Gary Keller poses a question in his book “The One Thing” which is key to unlocking prioritisation:

“What is the one thing that you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

Gary Keller, The One Thing

By narrowing your focus to just one area then extraordinary results can be achieved. If you apply the same logic to your vision, if it is to come true, what is the most important thing that you need to do?

The challenge for this week then is simple.

  • Think about all the things that you have on your to-do list – one to -do list for your whole life, not separate ones for work and home life.
    Now if you were all like me you’d all have access to flip charts and sticky notes, but you probably haven’t, so either do the next step on a document on your device – Word or PowerPoint or the google equivalents, or cut some paper down into small squares. However you choose to do this, it’s important that you have the ability to move things around.
  • Write each item from your to-do list on a separate piece of paper / in a separate text box.
  • Draw yourself an Urgent and Important matrix and start classifying your activities. (Or you can use the template provided at the end of this blog:
    Be bold, challenge yourself, really think through how urgent and important each item is. If you have more than 5 things in the Urgent & Important box, push yourself harder again. It’s unlikely you really have to do all of those things today, some of them must be able to be scheduled in your diary for later in the week.
  • Once you have completed the exercise, before you do anything else, do one thing from your Urgent & Important box. It can be big or small, but don’t do anything else until you have completed that first action. Once it’s done then you can take a break.

When you’ve taken a break, then head over to the final blog in this series and learn about how you can utilise your vision and goals, and your prioritised to do list to help you overcome your procrastination and move into action.

Click the link below to download the template for the Urgent & Important Matrix