What is the single thing you're not doing, that if done would have a tremendous effect on your personal life? or your work life?
Everyone has a different answer, I have several: blogging, working out, caring of the DevDay community... the kind of things that I keep postponing continously, because there are more important things to do. But after reading a book (keep reading to know the name!), i started questioning myself: why i am not doing these things? What is preventing me from doing stuff that could enhance my life?
Turns out we can divide the "things to do" in 4 categories and put those in a matrix:
What is urgent? And what is Important?
Urgent is something that requires immediate attention; urgent activities are often very visible. For example, a ringing phone is urgent (for the most of us). If we are in the middle of a serious meeting with someone and we hear the phone ringing, we can't resist the urge to see who's calling and probably also aswer and say "I'll call you back".
Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results. Something is important if it contributes to your goals.
The way our brain works is that we tend to give high priority to urgent things, even when these things are not important, because of their visibility. So, we tend to think that every urgent problem is also important (spoiler: it's not).
Let's go back to the question we asked in the first paragraph. The things that would enhance our lives that we're currently not doing, in which quandrant should fall?
You've probably answered Quadrant II, and that's right. The interesting thing is what happens to tasks that end up in this quadrant: they tend to be forgotten and never executed.
But there is a way to do this. If I want to exercise more, I have to reserve some time and do it. If I want to write more blog posts, I probably need to schedule it. Ok... you probably got where I want to go!
Let's rewrite the matrix by putting labels on every quadrant:
|IMPORTANT||I - Problems||II - Schedule|
|NOT IMPORTANT||III - Delegate||IV - Delete|
The quadrant I is now called Problems - not because they're real problems, but because the things that are urgent and important must be solved as soon as possible otherwise they'll become problems.
The quadrant II it's called Schedule - things that are important but not urgent should be planned upfront and you should reserve time for it. For me, exercising falls into this category.
Tasks that fall in the third quadrant can be Delegated, because they are urgent but they are not important for the success of your life, or business. Here should fall the vast majority of things that seem important but they're not, like the phone call during an important meeting. We can answer later, or hire a secretary to handle them, etc.
Finally, the fourth quadrant is about all the tasks that are just a waste of time, like... scrolling social media. No-one gets any benefit from that, except advertisers :D
But I am terrible at planning things!
I feel your pain; I am also a terrible planner and a huge procrastinator. But I also discovered that we (humanity) went through at least 3 generations of time management techniques:
- TODO Lists. The first thing we created were to-do lists. However, these lists can grow biggish in small time, so we introduced...
- TODO Lists with priorities. This is a natural evolution of the first generation; there is an improvement because we now do the important things first, but if the list is long enough, we tend to do only the "urgent/important" things and there'll be no time or energy for the rest.
- Daily planners. So, daily planners came along and we started scheduling our days around things to do: meeting with Bob at 11, shop for grocieries at 18, etc.
Are these tools effective? Do these techniques help to do "non-urgent but important" tasks? If you tried them all you should already know the answer, that is, unfortunately, no.
A fourth generation planning technique
The book The 7 habits of highly effectively people, (Italian version here) which I am currently reading, contains much of what I've discussed in this blog post. In particular, Habit 3 - Put First Things first highlights a 4th generation tool for time management that is an evolution of a daily planner.
Instead of planning daily, we should start planning weekly. This way we have enough time to schedule important/non-urgent things that would otherwise be sucked out into other daily activities.
The second thing to do is to identify the roles we play during the week. For example, by living my life I play many roles, like individual, dad/husband, software engineer, community leader.
For each of these roles there are goals I want to achieve, for example:
- as an individual I want to read more books, and exercise
- as a parent/husband, I want to spend some quality, uninterrupted time with my kids and my wife.
- As a software engineer, I want to study new technologies, work on pet projects
- As a community leader I want to organize new monthly meetups
All these activities must be put into the weekly calendar and you should try to stick to the schedule because of the final reward: a better version of yourself.
I'm still half through the book, so I can't reccomend it fully, even though it's a nice read that puts a lot of things into the right perspective. I admit that I was worried to be reading a psychological, motivational book because they usually are not my kind. However, there are a lot of ideas to become a better parent, leader, manager (they're two different things) and I'd reccomend the book to those that are looking to improve their lives.