Being an entrepreneur, I must keep constant tabs on how I spend my minutes and how I can do more with less time. This warrants me to increase my productivity levels as much as I can.
But let me tell you, I have always been a chronic procrastinator. I love procrastinating and waiting until the last minute – until the deadlines come looming. It gives me a certain thrill to delay things and then rush to complete them. That’s how I am wired.
Heck, sometimes I am even delaying getting ready for appointments. Hardly a great trait, I know.
Waiting until the last minute gives you the adrenaline rush but you can get that rush from other sources like bungee jump or watching a horror flick.
So why do people still procrastinate? I think the answer lies in habit. It’s a habit and it’s a tough one to let go.
A couple years ago, I was fed up with this habit (yet again) so I scoured the Net to find answers to my problem. At that time, it was waking up early.
No matter what I tried, I’d fail. I had practiced snoozing so much that if there were a competition, I’d surely be crowned as the Snooze Queen.
I tried keeping two alarm clocks away from my bed, but to my surprise, that became a new challenge in itself. In my sleepy haze, I’d be frustrated with the clocks making noises, and say “Oh, yeah? Let me show you how I can fall asleep despite having to get up to shut you up”.
By morning, I forgot it was I who had set these alarms to go at once.
Long story short, I needed a kick in the butt to get me going.
And it was not until I found this nifty little tool to help me increase productivity drastically.
One Nifty Productivity Tool that Helped Me Boost Productivity
If you’re a personal development lover, you have probably heard of the Urgent/Important Matrix introduced by former US President Eisenhower and then Dr Stephen Covey.
When I discovered this matrix a couple years ago, I was lost for words. It hit the nail right on the head. I immediately sat down and mapped out my matrix, which looked horribly imbalanced.
The matrix is divided into 4 areas namely, Important, Urgent, Distractions, Interruptions.
It works on a simple yet powerful principle: Most of our time goes into doing urgent tasks which are not necessarily contributing toward our long-term goals.
Urgent does not equal important. The first time I heard this, I was shocked. I always equated the two and thought what’s urgent must be important, and so it is urgent.
But look deeper and you will know this is not true. For example, in my Important quadrant, I have writing an ebook as one task. Ideally, I should set aside plenty of time in my schedule so I can tackle this task. It contributes toward one of my professional goals.
However, since this is not urgent, as in there is no immediate perceivable impact of not being able to do it in time, the important tasks take a low priority in face of urgent ones.
An urgent task could be a client waiting on me to deliver an assignment. It has an immediate and perceivable effect – I don’t want to keep my client waiting for long. So I’d tackle the urgent ones before I even touch the important goal.
That’s when your personal and professional goals get delayed. No wonder I haven’t started that ebook yet (but I have set aside time for it, finally, today).
The bottom two quadrants are low in importance. Distractions are low importance and low urgency things like checking your email, stalking your ex on Facebook, reading LinkedIn posts by Influencers (or whatever they call them – I’ve been spending hours reading those addictive posts!)
These distractions can wait. They are neither as important nor urgent. They should simply take the last priority, or if you’re time boxing or using the Pomodoro technique for time management, these should be enjoyed during the break or leisure times.
Lastly, Interruptions have a high urgency factor but they are still low in importance. These are “urgent” requests from your boss/colleague/spouse/BFF that you’re forced obliged to fulfil.
You don’t want to piss them off, so you quit that important task that you finally got around and give in to the interruption.
Where Should You Focus the Most?
Needless to say, keep your eyes on the Important quadrant, always. That’s your prize. Make sure you set aside ample amount of time to tick tasks off in this area because this quadrant takes you closer to your real long-term goals.
A lot of your time, realistically, will go in finishing the urgent tasks. Let’s face it – you’ll always have something that’s urgent and needs to be done immediately. The fridge broke down, the tyres need changing, the boss needs to see the report tomorrow morning. The list goes on.
The idea is to dedicatedly set a portion of time for your own goals nevertheless.
Try to ditch Distractions and Interruptions as much as you can. If you’re hooked on social media and waste a lot of time on it, try Internet blocking software to keep you away from them.
If you find a lot of your interruptions come in the way of phone calls, consider switching it off while you’re churning out high-quality work on your computer.
Tell your loved ones about your plan so they don’t feel neglected. Create a work environment where you can focus without getting distracted.
My Results with the Matrix
Personally, when I started using the matrix, I saw the whole picture differently. It was right there in front of my eyes. There was nowhere to run. I realized I was spending way too much time on one particular distraction: checking emails.
My Gmail window was open all the times in the background and my eyes used to automatically turn on the left top to check if there has been a new email. Worst yet, I had notifications ON!
Big mistake! If you’re using an email client with its notifications on, turn it OFF now to save loads of time. Trust me on this.
Another thing that I lost huge amount of time on was checking Google Analytics. Ugh. If you have ever launched a website, you know the thrill of checking your Analytics account first thing in the morning.
You want to know how many people visited your site and from where. Analytics is hugely helpful, but can turn into a time-sucking black hole if you don’t keep your actions in check.
I felt pressured as a lot of my time was being spent in Distractions + Urgent tasks. As I said earlier, you cannot do away with urgent tasks forever. Critical tasks will creep up. That’s OK.
But by being more deliberate and conscious with your time, you can set hours aside for things that matter the most.
It’s amazing when you clearly see on paper how you’re spending your days and how unforeseen tasks can eat up a huge chunk before you even realize.
I got the proverbial kick in the butt once I started using the matrix for my daily, weekly and monthly tasks. It helped me keep things in perspective.
Oh, and I took care of my early rising habit eventually because I realized without making more smart time for my passions, I will never get a chance to pursue them.
Do you use the Urgent/Important matrix to increase your productivity? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Image by eflon.
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