At some point you need to draw a line in the sand between past and future and there is not better line day than today! I almost caught myself looking at to-do lists from last year (OK, last week) and just carrying them into my early January tasks. Bad idea! Many of the items have accumulated over the last quarter and some shouldn’t be on the list in the first place.
What I will do instead is build a fresh set of priorities and tasks for the next two weeks. I am starting with a blank page. I will loosely follow Dr. Stephen Covey’s quadrant system of time management by first identifying the Urgent and Important tasks (Quadrant 1) and putting them at the top of the list. No fires allowed in the first quarter!
The second thing I will do it list the Not-Yet-Urgent but Important items (Quadrant 2) that I can proactively take care of. I’m going to make sure that at least half of my work is in this category. How will I do that? Singling out the tasks/obligations that are not important and giving them away/back.
Here’s how I do that: After I finish the first two lists (Quadrants 1 and 2) there will be several items that will come to mind or jump out of my email inbox. The next list of items are in the Urgent but Not Important category (Quadrant 3). Mostly, these are other people’s problems. For whatever reason, I’m involved with it and it is not important to my roles and goals. I’m going to push each one back. There’s no time to reset expectations than the first of the year! I’ll let the concerned parties know that I’m not available for this anymore and reset their expectations. If they come back and say that they need your time, give them a list of items you are engaged with from Quadrant 1 or 2 and ask them which one you should cancel to make way for their project. Remember, if it is Urgent, but not important to your roles and goals, it is THEIR project. If it is an important favor you need to perform, then it should go in Quadrant 2.
Finally, if there are leftover items that fall into the Not Urgent Not Important category (Quadrant 4) – you need to train yourself not to think of them as legitimate to-do’s. If you want to push those back, do it. Some items might be obligations you have that are irrelevant to your success and out in the future. Don’t let them just sit there, push ‘em back or ask yourself, “do you want to do this favor?” If you let them fester and eventually move into the third quadrant (Urgent, Not Important), you may encounter strong emotions from the other side when you attempt to reset expectations and get out of the obligations.
However you approach your time management this week, just remember to start with a fresh piece of paper – not last year’s list. That is the key. If you are stuck with the long-list style of organizing your life, at least put a number next to each item that represents which quadrant it falls in. To quote Covey, “you want to be living in Quadrant 2 most of your life to be effective.”
Recommended read: First Things First by Dr. Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill and Rebecca Merrill.