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Increase Your Productivity: Priority Setting

Are you able to say, “I made great progress in the parts of life I value” at the end of each day? Our next several posts focus on personal and professional productivity – beginning with the importance of priority setting. Here are three great tips for priority setting: Scheduling your Big Rocks first, ABC Prioritization, and Eat That Frog First.

Priority Setting – Big Rocks First

Big Rocks First - Priority Setting

The first step in priority setting is identifying your values and principles for life. What values are most important to you? What relationships? How will you help others in your life? In what ways will you learn and grow to help yourself? How can you advance your career? Give back?

The most important priorities in your life should be your “biggest rocks” and where you spend the bulk of your time. Priority setting is primarily about identifying your big rocks and then prioritizing time for them first.

Your Big Rocks are Quadrant II Activities

The late Stephen R. Covey shares a simple Time Management matrix in his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The matrix has two variables – urgency and importance – and four quadrants as shown below:

Time Management Matrix - Stephen R. Covey
Davidjcmorris / CC BY-SA

Many business leaders we work with have learned to delegate or eliminate the unimportant time spent in Quadrants III and IV. Unfortunately, we see too many leaders who spend all of their time “fighting fires” in Quadrant I. The most effective people expend more time and effort in Quadrant II. This quadrant contains our big rocks and includes important but not urgent areas such as:

  • Visioning
  • Planning
  • Learning and Growing
  • Relationships
  • Developing others

Covey memorably shares the concept of “scheduling your big rocks first” in this short video from one of his 7 Habits seminars many years ago. The idea is even more relevant today in the age of smartphones and social media.

When managing your time, schedule your big rocks first. If you don’t, your schedule will be controlled by outside needs and all the little distractions in life.

ABC Prioritization

Twenty years ago, I was a regular user of the Franklin Planner – a notebook binder system with daily pages for scheduling and priority setting.

This was a time before smartphones and brands like google and Facebook. Online calendars were not a thing, so if I needed to schedule an event in the future, I would open my binder to the correct day and write the meeting into my “appointment schedule” at the correct time.

Franklin Planner

The Franklin system of prioritization used a daily task list that used both letters and numbers, and I still utilize some of this thinking today. Here are the basics of the Franklin system (courtesy of Hyrum W. Smith, founder of Franklin Quest who developed the Franklin Planner system):

  1. Make a list of everything you would like to accomplish today, including tasks that are not urgent. This list can be free-flowing and based on what pops into your head, a list of goals, or the previous day’s list. Hopefully, it includes your top priorities (quadrant I and II activities).
  2. Give an A, B, or C value to each item on the list. Assign an “A” to anything that is vital and must be done today. Write a “B” next to tasks that are important and should be done. Write a “C” next to the rest of the tasks that are trivial and could be done.
  3. Give a numerical value to each item on the list. Go back over the list one more time and separately prioritize you’re A, B, and C tasks. The overall most important task for the day will be A1, the second will be A2, and so on ending with the last C task.

Eat That Frog First

Eat That Frog - Brian Tracy

Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Often, the A1 most important item on your priority list is a hard task you’ve been putting off. It is the performance conversation with an employee who is not meeting expectations, the final report to a client, or a conversation with your boss about a mistake she made in the marketing plan. When you “eat that frog” first you get this important task done early, so even if the rest of your day falls apart due to urgent issues you have at least completed the A1, the most important task!

Other Priority Setting Tools and Techniques

This post shares three popular priority-setting techniques you can begin using today. After over 25 years of learning the best priority setting techniques and applying them to my daily life, I still use the concepts above combined with a few other key ideas.

Check out our next two posts where we will share more thoughts on identifying your big rocks (your purpose and values) and additional methods for priority setting using the key roles in your life. I’ll then put everything together into the system I use today that helps me increase my productivity.

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