7 Steps To Prioritizing Work That Matters
I was jolted awake by the loud ringtone on my phone and fumbled to silence it before it wakes up my baby boy who was also sleeping in the room. It was from a client and I knew what he wanted. I picked up the call reluctantly… And the number of unhappy clients pile up.
I was really stressed up over the number of unhappy clients. Orders are not coming in, and all my big plans doesn’t look like it is happening.
There I was, scratching my head in despair when my wife, a teacher, couldn’t stand it anymore and shouted at me, “Why are you pulling your hair and staring blankly at the screen? You are not doing anything!”
It woke me up like the phone in the morning. Only this time, there was no morning fog.
That’s when I realized that when I’m stressed out, I become paralyzed and not do anything!
When things go wrong, my default reaction is to mull over the problem and get stuck in a negative cycle.
Because of my wife’s wake up call, I felt a sudden sense of clarity and awareness. I started taking steps towards doing work that matters because that’s the only way out. No point struggling with emails, admin work, and other less important stuff.
The 7 steps I took to prioritize work that matters
1. Understand The Objective
Before I do anything, I try to understand the objective first.
Sounds simple but when I’m deep in the trenches and stuck in a mess, I simply can’t see beyond the pile in front of me.
Often, I just keep doing the same thing without realizing that it’s not going to bring better results. Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. Yet I do it all the time!
Sometimes, I just need to take a step back to realize that I’m heading in the wrong direction.
If I want to see the sunset but keep running towards the East, no matter how hard or fast I run, I won’t get to see the sunset. I will see the sunrise, but is it the sunset I wanted?
So, I always ask myself what is it that I really want to achieve. Why is it important?
I’ll ask myself if it will bring me closer to my objectives. If not, I won’t do it.
2. The 3 second rule
When I spend too much time to make a decision, I get paralyzed and end up not doing anything.
What is a decision?
According to Tony Robbins: A decision is only made when an action is taken towards it.
So making a decision involves taking an action. Almost like sealing a pact with myself.
To seal the pact, I take action immediately. No waiting!
Use the 3 second rule >> Take only 3 seconds to make a decision.
You might ask: “Shouldn’t you take time to plan and make the best decision?” Yes, I need to plan. And I also need to act. All plan and no action will give me no results.
Here’s why it work:
If I am just starting out, my ability to make good decisions on-the-fly might not be the best. But I have nothing to lose. If I make a mistake, that’s normal and expected. I’ll learn from it and move on. I’ll probably improve faster too.
If I am a seasoned expert, my years of experience would have given me awesome instincts that will help me make great decisions without over-thinking.
Can you think of a situations where you can see or hear more than those with less experiences? For me, as a seasoned sport climber, I can often tell if a person will succeed in the move even before they actually complete the move. Sometimes it’s a bit awkward because I will be clapping half a second before everyone else does.
Being able to make quick decisions helps me focus my time and energy on things that will move the needle. I don’t need to be correct all the time. Being correct 80% of the 1000 times I took action is still better than being 100% right for just once.
As you take more action, you learn and you grow in competency. Your failure today is only a temporary defeat that you can build on for tomorrow’s success
So don’t waste more than 3 seconds to decide what to do. Move on quickly, get more done, and get better along the way.
3. Kill the growing pile
Do you have that pile of leads to follow up or customer support cases or never-ending To-Do list? If not, good for you.
Often I see a pile as ONE task. So the daily work looks like this >> Task = Clear To-Do List. And it’s never completely done.
It’s like there’s a huge dragon standing in my way of a cave full of treasures. I know that the gold is just beyond the dragon but it seems too much for me to handle.
So how do you slay the dragon?
I turned the huge dragon into lots of tiny dragon. Then, I take them on one by one by one by one… Each tiny dragon slain is one step closer towards the gold (goal).
So, break the task into smaller parts and tackle them one at a time. It’s much easier and less crippling.
4. Clean up the Environment
I found that physical clutter in my work environment often translate to clutter in my brain. Don’t allow that!
My most productive hours are often in areas where there are no physical clutter like in a cafe.
In this Digital Age where there are endless distractions, it takes a lot to not get lost in the Internet rabbit hole. News, funny video, social media, games, and more are constantly fighting for attention and each minute spent on these things is a minute away from work that will matters. Work that will take me one step closer to my goals. Work that will slain one more tiny dragon.
Try this: Set a timer and see how minutes you can focus 100% on your work without being distracted by notifications, messages, emails, or ended up on a distracting site like YouTube or Facebook?
So I try to keep my digital environment free by switching my phone to airplane mode and put it out of sight/reach whenever I can.
Sometimes I just turn off the Wifi when I’m writing. If you have to use the Internet for work, one good way to prevent distractions is to use a site blocker like StayFocused
Click here to download the 7-STEP Checklist to QUICKLY get over any hump in life.
5. Focus on Just One Thing
I constantly ask myself “What’s my number one priority today?”
If I can’t answer this question, I will stop for a while and regroup.
I’ll spend a minute thinking, if you can only do one task today, what would it be? What is that one thing that will have the biggest impact?
I try to spend 80% of my day working on this top priority. Or, until it’s done.
On some days, my top priority is to rest (I’ll probably need a few more of these). We are humans and not robots. Our body and mind need to rest and recharge once in a while.
So don’t feel ashamed when you have days where your top priority is actually to rest (of course, not too frequently). It’s hard to take my mind off work entirely. On some ‘rest’ days, I might just take a nap in the middle of the day.
6. What’s The Worst That Can Happen
When faced with choices about what to work on I’ll imagine the worst case scenario for not doing either of these choices. Sometimes, one of it is urgent while the other is not so urgent but will make a difference in the long term.
What’s the worst that can happen if I decide to not work on one of them now?
Maybe it’s Sales Vs Accounting.
What’s the best case and worst case scenario for each? And how can you mitigate the worst case scenario? Maybe you can’t prevent the worst case scenario. But perhaps you can make it a little better.
Best case: Win a deal and bring in some revenue.
Worst case: Huge pile of accounting work to do at the end of the year.
Possible Mitigations: Hire a freelance accountant to help out, get an intern from accounting school, outsource to India.
Now, what if we reverse the priority.
Best case: Everything is in order and no mess at the end of the year.
Worst case: Your business close down because no sales = no revenue = no business.
Possible Mitigation: Erm..Do Sales?
I started to spend more of my time following up with prospects and partners. I also stop spending so much of my time on data entry and organizing my CRM. Since then, sales have became much more consistent and strong. Strong customer reviews also starts flowing in without me asking.
Often I fall into the trap of working on things that doesn’t move the needle because it’s easier to see results and consequences.
By spending 1 hour on those admin task, I can be sure that the job will get done and there are some results that can be seen. But following up on a lead doesn’t guarantee any results. So my brain tricks me into doing things that are pleasurable(immediate result) rather than something that might not have any visible returns.
7. Replace Me
The final key to getting more important work done is to replace yourself for the work that doesn’t matter as much. Like in the previous point, you can hire a freelancer to do your accounts, outsource your design work to elance.com, or bring in a part-timer to do the admin work that’s time consuming and repetitive.
You can also use softwares to automate the work that you are doing.
Only when you are replacing the work that you are doing with other people who can do the same work as you(or maybe even better and faster), would you be able to spend more of your time on the important things.
Think about it, the CEO doesn’t do all the work right? Yes, he/she might visit the work site or get their hands dirty once in a while. But if he/she spends the whole week on the factory line, what’s going to happen to the company. As a leader of the company (or department, section, whatever), your key task is to set the direction, make decisions, and lead. Without these, you are not leading and you are doing a disservice to your team.
To Sum it up
The 7 steps to prioritizing work that matters:
Since applying these 7 steps, I have been able to get more important work done without worrying about less important stuff. I’m not perfect. Once in a while, I still refer back to my list of 7 steps and work on my current weaknesses.
Are you facing the same situation as I did? How did you get through it? Tell me in the comments.
P.S. You can download the a one-page checklist of the 7 strategies below.
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