Prioritization

How Prioritization Can Make You LESS Productive Why you should stop prioritizing tasks on importance and urgency – and start using this framework instead

We often prioritize tasks based on two criteria: importance and urgency

These two dimensions form the basis of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix for processing tasks. Depending on the importance and urgency of the task, we either Do, Decide, Delegate, or Delete it. 

The Eisenhower Matrix is great for the day-to-day processing of tasks. But processing tasks only matters if we assume that the tasks are a part of your right path in life. 

A friend of mine, I will call her Kathy, is the owner of a small consulting firm with 20 employees. She recently received a call from a major client who was interested in their services. However, this client was not going to be easy to work with. 

At the first meeting, the client presented a laundry list of expectations. He would check in with them at least twice a week Kathy would need to adopt her procedures to suit his demands. At a follow-up meeting that included three of Kathy’s employees, the client listed even more demands. He also questioned each employee in a tone that bordered on being disrespectful. Finally, to test that Kathy’s firm would fulfill his needs, he gave them 1 week to complete a trial consulting project that would usually take 1 month.

Kathy was torn about what to do. The team had set a goal of doubling revenue this year and adding this client would have instantly made them reach that goal. But was it worth it? After pondering for hours, she eventually decided that it wasn’t. The next day she called the client to tell her how much she appreciated his consideration, but that they had decided to turn him down. 

How was Kathy able to walk away from this opportunity? Because she knows that tasks don’t matter if they don’t align with your right path in life. And to assess whether a task is a part of your right path we should consider the task’s effectiveness and enjoyment

Imagine a 2×2 matrix with tasks being either high/low in how effective they are at accomplishing your life goals and high/low in how enjoyable they are to do. For example, you might have a goal of being financially independent, but there are endless paths you could take to achieve this goal. Some paths will be more effective (more results for less effort) and some you will find more enjoyable. 

This Path Matrix represents the four different types of paths you can operate within. And each path has its own Eisenhowever Matrix of tasks that are important and urgent for that particular path. 

But here’s the thing: it’s 10X better to do a non-important, non-urgent task on a great path – than to do an important-urgent task on a mediocre path. The path you choose sets a ceiling on how great your life can be. 

Now, imagine if your every day was full of these 1st quadrants activities that are both effective and enjoyable. You would be living your dream life then and there! Achieving success in life is not about accomplishing a set of goals. It is about getting to, and staying within, the 1st quadrant.

In Kathy’s case, accepting the client would have nudged her team’s path higher up on effectiveness, but it would also have nudged them down on enjoyment. And sometimes this might be a good deal. A professional soccer player may not love practicing dribbling, but she does it because she loves being a master more. Likewise, if you are offered $100,000/month for a 3-month job you loath, the short-term sacrifice could definitely be worth it. 

However, if you don’t have a strong enough WHY that makes the shit-sandwich worthwhile, or if the task is not a temporary deviation from your path, then it is the wrong path. 

A task might seem important because it is the most high-value task on your current path. But are you certain that your current way of accomplishing your goal is the best possible way available? Is there no better way to achieve your health goal than your current routine?

An extraordinary life is not reached by better prioritization of tasks. But by continuously finding more effective and enjoyable tasks to do. Use the Path Matrix first to find the right tasks, and use the Eisenhower Matrix second to give you the day-to-day focus.  

In which areas of your life could you switch to a better path?

Where Did My Time Go? How your time vanishes and how you can make more of it

How much is 1 minute worth to you? 

Probably not much. But 1 minute is actually a quite significant part of your day. If you sleep for 7 hours and 20 minutes, you have exactly 1,000 wakeful minutes each day to live your life. 10 minutes is actually 1% of your wakeful day. 

A day is just a tiny part of our entire lifespan. But if you perform the same 10-minute activity every day, you are actually spending 1% of your entire life on that activity. 

When an activity is done every day, don’t allow yourself to think: “Well, it is only 10 minutes. It is no biggie.” 

No, It is 1% of your life! And you have only one life to spend. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Do I want to spend 5% of my life commuting to and from work?
  • Do I want to spend 5% of my life preparing food?
  • Do I want to spend just 5% of my life connecting with the people I love most?

When an activity is a one-off, it is as if you are being asked: “Would you spend 10 minutes of all the time you have left on this activity?”. 

But when you do an activity every day, it is as if you are being asked: “Would you spend 10 minutes on this activity if you had just one day left to live?” Because until you change your routine, you are choosing to spend 1% of your life on this activity. That is the same percentage as 10 minutes of your last day on earth. 

Now, imagine if you had the opportunity to do a task once that would save you 1 minute for the rest of your life. How much time would you be ready to invest in that task today? 

Personally, I would gladly give up 5 days to save 1 minute each day. 

This might seem ludicrous. Until you do the math. 

I am 22 years old and expect to live to at least 80. That is 58 years * 365 days per year / 1,000 min per day = 21 days more that I will enjoy my life. 

I get 21 days back for 5 days of work. 

That is a 4X return on my time! 

I do value my time being young more than being old, but 4X is a great return for me. And these days are not going to come when I am old and wrinkled. They are going to be evenly spread throughout my life. 

Realistically, saving 1 minute every day might require 1 hour of work. Imagine if you kept finding ways to save 1 minute per day for the rest of your life, with each minute saved requiring 1 hour of work. If you kept doing this for one month, how much more time would you have to enjoy your life? 

Assuming that you have 50 more years left to live, you would give up 22 days to earn an extra 547 days! Does that sound like a good deal to you? 

The reason why I show these numbers is to help you realize just how powerful daily activities are. 

If you enjoy the routine for its own sake, by all means keep doing it! But if you are only interested in the outcome, here is a list of possible time-saving strategies you could try:

  • Eliminate: Could you buy two power cables for your laptop for home and work, instead of unplugging, packing, and re-plugging the same cable? 
  • Automate: Could you set up automatic deliveries for products you need to restock regularly, such as toilet paper, cereal, or batteries? 
  • Outsource: Could you find a friend who would be happy to do the research you need? 
  • Effectivize: Could you dim your lights one hour before bed to help you fall asleep faster? 
  • Templatize: Could you create templates for emails you frequently need to send? 
  • Bulk actions: Could you prepare dinner for 5 days in just one evening? (For added variety, consider making a large pot of a staple good, like pasta, and using that same pasta for two different recipes). 
  • Task-combining: Could you call a friend to catch up while commuting to work?

Which daily activity can you shave off a few precious minutes from?