“Ricardo, why haven’t you finished this part of the project yet?”
A slightly irritated voice was banging through my phone on a Saturday morning.
It was a call from the CEO of the company calling about a project he insisted to be finished a week ago.
“I just finished another high priority project and therefore just started working on yours”, I replied calmly.
Not good enough.
After a long chat, we hung up the phone and I promised to come back to him with a solution to prioritize my work to maximize my results.
This is the exact same process you’ll be able to copy-paste into your daily life to save you the headaches I went through.
Before we start prioritizing your tasks, it’s important to first create an answer to this question:
“What is one thing could you do (something you aren’t doing right now) that, if you did it on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive impact with working with your customers? “
We’ll come back to your answer at the end of this blog.
Why you should prioritize your work
There is a famous saying that goes like this: “if you want to get something done, give it to a busy man”.
A quote I never really understood, until one day.
During one of my growth projects, I got to work with a highly skilled and disciplined developer in my growth team (as they usually are).
Since the majority of the companies I have guided didn’t start with a full grown team, spending our time wisely was the key to delivering high results.
One day, I walked up to him and asked to work on some urgent matters.
“Ricardo, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Just let me share with you my situation.”
He walked me through his documentation process.
A document where he had listed all the experiments, deadlines and scoring we had agreed upon in advance.
“I can take on the job you have asked me to do, but I’ll have to move some of these projects I am on right now. Should I delay the other experiments?”
I realized that the job I was asking him was urgent, but not that important to drop all his other work.
I realized we had found a clear and disciplined way of prioritizing tasks and say no to things.
Because anytime you say yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying no to an infinite number of others.
Showing people your enormous self-made to-do list is one way to do this, but there is something lacking.
Setting priorities for those tasks.
Prioritizing tasks is key to being able to communicate clearly to other people why you can or can’t work on another project.
It helps them decide whether what they are asking is of true importance to move the other things you have planned to do.
Turning the tables in your favor.
Remember, like in growth marketing, it’s not about spending more than your competitors, it’s about spending your time more wisely by working on high-impact ideas with your team.
This is the framework you can use to do just that.
How to prioritize your work.
The moment I hung up the phone with the CEO I walked to my bookcase to pick up one of my favorite books, the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey.
In one of the habits, he explains how we are actually only able to spend our time in 4 ways.
Exactly what I needed to prioritize my to-do list.
As you can see, the two factors that define an activity of your task are urgent and important.
Urgent meaning it requires your immediate attention.
Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results.
If something is important it contributes to your mission, values and high priority goals of the company.
Quadrant 1: urgent and important
When we look at people that manage their lives in crisis mode, you’ll notice they spend most of their time in Quadrant 1.
They spend most of their times solving crisis modes, running behind deadlines, and solving pressing problems.
Doing things they believe are urgent and important.
As long as you focus the majority of your time on this Quadrant, it keeps getting bigger and bigger until it dominates you.
Quadrant 3 & 4: (not) urgent and not important
Other people spend a great time of their lives thinking all they do is urgent, but actually not that important.
They spend their week replying to some emails, some meetings, and some calls.
The reality is that the urgency of these matters is often based on the priorities and expectations of others, not themselves.
People spending exclusive time in Quadrants 3 & 4 are basically leading irresponsible lives.
Living on other people’s time and values, not theirs.
Quadrant 2: Not urgent and important
This quadrant is the heart of effective time management. It deals with things that are not urgent but are important for in the future.
It deals with building relationships, long-range planning, exercising, and preparation.
All of those things we know we need to do, but somehow seldom get around doing, because they aren’t urgent.
With the time management matrix in mind, take a moment to think about the answer you gave to the question:
“What is one thing could you do (something you aren’t doing right now) that, if you did it on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive impact with working with your clients? “
What quadrant do they fit in? Are they important? Are they urgent?
My guess is that the answer probably fits in quadrant 2.
They are obviously important, but not urgent. And because they are not urgent, you don’t do them. Even if you know they would bring tremendous positive impact to your company.
Implementing this process into your daily life is exactly one of those things.
You know it’s important, but not urgent and therefore you wouldn’t take the time for it.
Fortunately, you know better now.
Let’s start implementing, shall we?
How to implement the prioritization framework
As former U.S President Dwight D. Eisenhower would say:
“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent is not important, and the important is never urgent.” — Eisenhower
It’s time to build the framework and effectively communicate this to the people around you.
This is the reason I decided to use the same software to schedule my prioritized to-do list, feel free to use your own software.
This is how your setup will look like:
- To do
- On hold
- Legend (explaining the 4 quadrants again)
The magic happens when you create a new to-do from your desktop or mobile (they have an app).
Step 1: Write down what the specific task is
Step 2: Add the layer of quadrants
Step 3: Add the due date if possible
Step 4: Force yourself to repeat what you need to do in order to avoid not getting the whole picture of what you need to be doing (this helps a lot when clients are calling and you need to be writing down exactly what they expect you to do).
Step 5: Add additional attachments or people responsible if needed.
Before you start implementing, it’s important to understand the goal.
The goal is to be working on as many tasks in the ‘Not urgent – Important’ quadrant, (which you can quickly see because of the color codes in Pipefy). These tasks are the ones that will help you achieve great results in the long run, not only in the short-term.
The goal is to multiply your time by giving the emotional permission to spend time on things today that will give you more time tomorrow.
This is how you prioritize yourself to work on high-impact ideas that deliver high results.
Now it’s time to implement the last step.
Communicating exactly what you are working on with your clients or team.
How to communicate your prioritized tasks
When people are paying you to do a job, they want to be informed about what they are paying you to do, something I learned from a high performing growth marketer, Lenny Benaïcha.
Since you have spent time prioritizing your tasks, it’s time to inform people on a daily basis what you’ll be working on.
There are 3 things you want to communicate to the people you are working with:
- What have you done yesterday?
- What are you doing today?
- What is holding you back in order to complete your task?
I found that the most efficient way to communicate these 3 topics are in the channels they are familiar with (mostly slack).
This is an example of how it looks like:
- I have communicated that I didn’t do anything yesterday since I was busy working on another project.
- I took a look at my calendar and experiment sheet and communicated what I’ll be working on today.
- I have communicated what is holding me back to work on the parts I need to finish. In this case, we discovered the hosting we were running on was behaving slowly, we had to change plans and therefore put a project on hold before we could move on.
Here are the advantages of this little standup:
- It pushes your team to think about what they want to accomplish that day.
- It allows everybody on the team to see what you are working on and brings in a culture of helping others if needed.
- It allows people to measure their capabilities of what they can work on in one day.
You’ll also notice how great people are at overestimating what they can do in a day, that’s the bonus.
Time to work on those high-impact prioritized tasks to maximize your results.
Written with peace, love, and growth.
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