No one has to learn how to prioritize time like the leader of a country. The volume of decisions requested an hour can be completely overwhelming to someone unaccustomed to the prioritization rule of productivity. One president who was most known for his ability to get things done created a simple matrix to help with task management. I’ve used this time hack for years and even though it usually only takes 10 minutes at the beginning of the day, I’ve found it saves me hours in lost productivity per week.
Dwight Eisenhower was an American military officer and statesman who served as the 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961. Whether it was on the field of battle or in the White House, he often had to make difficult decisions about how many tasks he would focus on each day. This prompted him to invent a principle that helps prioritize our tasks according to urgency and importance. Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, popularized Eisenhower’s concept of time management matrix that helped him use the four quadrants and different strategies to determine urgency of a task over another and ultimately led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower principle that today gives urgency above importance.
The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent and Important Matrix, is a simple decision-making tool that helps you prioritize your to-do list on urgency and importance. For decades the Eisenhower matrix has been used to increase productivity by businesses and individuals alike after its creator, President Dwight Eisenhower. By learning to prioritize tasks you can improve your work efficiency, eliminate time-wasting activities and strengthen your long-term business goals.
The basic idea of the Eisenhower grid is to learn how to prioritize tasks and problems by identifying what is important, urgent, and not urgent, what is really important, how to shorten the time needed to get something done and how to respond to what does not deliver significant results. Here’s the Recruiter Productivity Matrix :
I like to have themes to my week. I find the weeks I “theme” are often 10x more productive than those I don’t. For example, I might choose to theme my week around two “Do’s”: automation and a senior level search. As I go through my week, when meeting requests or other items pop up in my inbox, I compare them to my themes. Those that will help me move the needle on automation or my senior level search, I “Do” or “Decide”. Those are not go through the second step of the process.
Let’s say I have a request to sit on a benefit design call. While this may be an important meeting, it is not one of the meetings that will help me with those themes I’ve selected as my Do/Decide in my Recruiter Productivity Matrix for the week. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to inform the organizer that their priority is not MY priority for the week but this one decision allows me to stay focused on what is important for the week. Remember, when you say yes to one thing, you have to say no to something else.
In this case, you would email the organizer to give them the option to delay the meeting or request until the next week or another time that you choose. This places the power in the requester to comply or deny the request. If they mandate that the meeting cannot be the following week, you then must deny the request. Uncomfortable huh?
Retraining your team and partners
The biggest mindset shift is to become comfortable with saying no if it’s protecting your ability to be productive and not just busy. Part of the new process will be retraining your team members and colleagues to your new process and mindset. There are some easy ways to make this less confrontational.
Simply blocking out parts of your calendar as busy is a good first step. Look for times that you can’t meet or don’t want meetings so you can focus on your themes. The goal here is to set space on your schedule, so others will see you as busy and unavailable to them. If you get a meeting request within that time frame, suggest an alternate time (DELAY). If you don’t have authority to reschedule the meeting or it involves a larger group, you’ll need to decide whether it’s essential for you to attend or if you could potentially listen to a recording at a different time (DENY). This is an easy and effective way to guard your time and focus.
Another important step, similar to above, is to schedule time to complete your priority task. I usually call this appointment FOCUS TIME. Start using this tactic by setting a reoccurring time each week, such as 9-11 a.m. two mornings a week. Other people choose to block the time each week as needed to get projects done. Use a method that’s most helpful for you.
My other productive tactic is to discuss your themes with your immediate supervisor weekly. This allows your leader to provide cover fire when needed. Let’s say you receive one of these “Fire Meeting” requests and after asking to DELAY the meeting, the organizer forces you to DENY it. When they run to your immediate supervisor to tattle, your supervisor knows your priorities for the week and can help support your decision. This tactic has save me countless hours and it also helps when my manager sees that by focusing more on less during the week, I get more done. It’s a win/win strategy for them.
There are three things I protect vigorously in my work life: time, focus and money. It’s been a hard journey but these simple steps have allowed me to outproduce many of my colleagues. Try a couple of these steps and measure your productivity at the end of the week. I think you’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt this method to other areas of your life.
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