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


Overcoming procrastination and getting in to action

Part 1 – Know where you’re going.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I struggle to get the motivation to tackle my ever growing to do list. Life is uncertain at the moment, my world is turned upside down, and the idea of getting those things done that have been on my list forever just doesn’t have any appeal.

To help me get moving I’ve been reading a lot of books about how to prioritise, and how to overcome my procrastination. What’s interesting about all of them is that they assume you know something else, they assume that you know what your vision for the future is, and by knowing what this is then you can use it to help springboard yourself into meaningful action.

What then, if you don’t know your what your vision is, if living in these uncertain times has meant that your vision for your life hasn’t just changed but has disappeared. Where do you start with rethinking your future direction? And why is knowing your direction important, why can’t you just get stuff done and worry about your vision later?

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Dr Stephen R Covey) habit 2 is “begin with the end in mind”. The simple message behind this habit is that only by knowing where you’re going can you understand where you are now and that you’re heading in the right direction with each step that you take. It’s so easy to get stuck in the ongoing quest to climb the ladder of success only to realise once you have climbed it that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. All the steps which you have taken so much effort to do have just helped you to get to the wrong place faster.

Picture of a ladder with the quote
"It's incredibly easy to get caught up in the activity trap, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it's leaning against the wrong wall"
Dr Stephen R Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Covey is far from the only one to highlight the importance of this approach. If you move away from your personal life and into your business, the first step of creating any business strategy is to have a clear vision for the future, one which you and your employees buy in to.

A vision is extremely powerful and motivating. When it is stated objectively it can fuel us with energy and endurance. It takes us to the 30,000 foot view, allowing us to see the big picture. Developing a vision helps create clarity on what we want to create in your business or lives. A vision helps us decide where we want to focus, and where we don’t want to focus. It can help us say YES and NO powerfully.

Without one, how can you set your strategic priorities, to help you focus, make decisions and move your organisation forwards?

Now we know how important it is to have a vision, it’s time to take your first step into creating one for yourself

There are different ways in which you can do this, but most imagine stepping into the future in some way and describing what it looks like.

Why not try one of these exercises to help you get started:

  • Think about the speech given at your 90th birthday party, what would you want to be said about you?
  • Write a diary entry about your ideal day – what did you do, who did you see, how did you feel?
  • Work through a guided visualisation exercise – lots of examples can be found online
  • Create a vision board showing what you want from your life

Don’t rush creating your vision, allow your subconscious time to work through the questions. Make notes as inspiration strikes. Your vision does not need to be perfect, remember that is it is better to have something rather than nothing. Your vision will evolve over time, so for now create a working vision to aid you with your current decision-making needs. Make sure you focus on what you want, what you want to move towards, not what you want to move away from.

Think about your vision using the present tense. What do I see? What do I hear? What do I have? This is especially important. If you use the future tense then it feels far from reach, in the present tense it becomes alive, it feels achievable, and your subconscious is more able to process it as a reality.

Make sure you have created your vision in a tangible way. People who vividly describe their goals in a tangible way (written or using a vision board) are anywhere from 20-40% more likely to achieve their vision. That’s a really big difference, just from writing things down, how is that even possible? Well if we consult neuroscience, we find that writing things down has a huge impact on your brain’s ability to encode the data, to transfer it to long-term memory.  Writing things down also helps to make your brain more efficient by helping you to focus on the truly important things in it. A double whammy.

Several years ago, I completed a leadership programme called “Ignite Your Spirit”. There were a number of takeaways from the programme, but the one that stuck with me was to capture your vision in a way that you can carry with you at all times. So, turn your vision into a wallet sized image and start carrying it with you. We’ll come back to that in future blogs and talk about how to use it.

Once you have the vision, you might think that the next thing to do is to start thinking about the things that you need to do in order to get you there and start moving forwards. Well, you’re partially right. The next thing we’re going to do is to think about all the things that will stop you getting there.

By understanding what roadblocks will stop you along the way, you can determine what you need to put in place that will help you to overcome these blocks. These will be your goals, the things that you need to work on. That means that when those roadblocks inevitably happen, you will already have the skills and strategies in place in order to keep on going with your plan, they won’t derail you or your progress, instead you will take them in your stride and keep on moving towards your vision.

A picture of a road leading you to your vision, swerving around the roadblocks that you will come across along the way

This is where coaching can help. Coaches are trained to help you understand the reality of getting to your vision, helping you to break that vision down in to manageable goals along the way.

There are specific tools that your coach can use to help you, from the wheel of life, to values elicitation and the grow model. Why not reach out for a chat to talk about coaching might work for you?

If you’re interested in creating a new organisational vision in collaboration with your team, then have a look at how strategic planning could work for you:

In the next blog we’ll start thinking about how you can use your vision to help you prioritise all the things on your to do list, and then we’ll move on to getting you in to action.

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