This article was written by Michael Blank and originally published on the Bigger Pockets here.
You’re probably familiar with Steven Covey’s four quadrants of time management. We tend to spend way too much time with things that are urgent and NOT important (Quadrant 3) and not ENOUGH time with things that are important but urgent (Quadrant 4). This is a real problem because this behavior becomes a drag on our productivity.
Have you ever come home from work after a day of putting out fire after fire? You’re completely exhausted but wonder what in the world you actually did all day. Days like that are draining and make you feel empty. They also never get you any closer to your actual goals.
On the other hand, when you accomplish an important goal that day and it energizes you. You feel like you’ve accomplished something. You feel more fulfilled.
Why do we get sucked in by Quadrant 3?
I think there are a variety of reasons we spend most of our time doing urgent stuff that’s not really important:
- The natural response to an urgent event is to address it immediately and drop anything else we’re doing. It’s the “easiest” thing to do. Doing anything else requires thought and discipline.
- We don’t like to say “No”. It’s easier and more pleasant to just say yes. If we want to avoid spending time in Quadrant 3 and spend more time with what’s actually important, we have to say “no” to certain things that are frankly not that important.
- It’s easier to do an urgent item than an important item. Urgent items are usually easier to do and don’t take that much time. On the other hand, important items tend to push us outside our comfort zone and take time to complete. We want things done NOW and we don’t want to try too hard to get them.
This is why, like bugs to a fly zapper, we’re drawn to urgent tasks. Let’s see what we can do about it.
What I’m about to present to you is a combination of things I’ve gleaned from other people and adapted. I hope they will help you become more productive and achieve your goals.
7 Tips to Help You Boost Your Productivity
Here are 7 tips to help us spend as much as time as possible with things that are important but NOT urgent (Quadrant 2). Our productivity will soar if we can do this on a consistent basis.
Tip # 1: Identify Your Top Goals in the next 90 Days
Why 90 days? Because accomplishing important goals sometimes takes longer than a day, and 90 days is long enough to give you a chance to achieve them. 90 days is also short enough for you to set goals that are attainable.
Some goals will take longer than 90 days to achieve. In that case. Create sub-goals that you CAN achieve in 90 days.
90-day goals are important because they dictate your daily goals that we’ll discuss next.
Tip # 2: Determine Your Next 3 Tasks
Let’s say an important 90-day goal is to purchase your first rental property. The sheer idea of it can be so overwhelming that we never even start.
To fight this kind of paralysis, identify the NEXT 3 THINGS that you should do next. These should be things you can accomplish this week. Knock out those three then write down the next three and repeat.
After 90 days you will be amazed at how far you’ve come.
Tip # 3: Properly Prioritize Your Tasks
If you’re not already, create a notebook where you write down and track all of your tasks.
Every morning, I look at my task list and put a star next to the important ones that I feel like I NEED to accomplish today. Normally I don’t have more than 3 starred activities in a day because they might take longer to complete and might be outside of my comfort zone. It’s also possible that an item might NOT get done because it will take longer and you’ll have it on your list again tomorrow.
Then there’s the less important tasks on your list that don’t deserve a star but still need to be done as soon as possible. I’ll put a dash next to those items so that I make sure they get done today.
Then I go through all of the starred and dashed items and rank them from 1 to whatever. Then I go through the ranked list one by one. Unless there’s a true fire burning that I can’t take care of later or delegate, I’m going to complete those items in the order I ranked them.
Tip # 4: Quickly Decide on What to Do with an Urgent Task
Invariably, some inbound, urgent, time-sucking and energy-draining task will show up in your email inbox or cell phone. Here are 3 ways to deal with these in the most efficient way possible.
- Say No: We don’t like to say no to people, but can you push back on the request?
- Delegate: is there a way you can delegate the task back to the person who created it for you or to someone else?
- Put it on your to-do list: if you absolutely can’t say no and you can’t delegate it for some reason, then put it on your to-do list for later.
Tip # 5: Schedule Time for your Important Tasks
Many important tasks take time to complete, sometimes even several hours. The problem is that we’re constantly distracted with urgent items that aren’t important (like the ding from your phone that you have a new email!) that we can’t seem to string together more than 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. As a result, it takes us FOREVER to really accomplish anything worth while.
The solution? Add the activity to your calendar like you would a lunch meeting. For some reason, when it’s in the calendar it’s real, and we feel compelled to obey the calendar. So schedule the task into your calendar.
When the scheduled time comes, make sure you really focus that time on the task. It would be rude to take calls and check emails while you’re at lunch with someone, right? So don’t do it during this time, either.
Tip # 6: Only Check Emails 3 Times Per Day
Tim Ferris suggests checking emails only once per day, but I just can’t seem to get there. In fact, I’m even struggling with checking it 3 times per day.
I’ve found it helps to turn notifications (of any kind) on your phone off. And when you’re NOT supposed to be checking email, you close your gmail tab in the browser so you’re not tempted.
Try checking emails only 3 times per day. I suggest in the morning, around lunch, and at the end of your work day. In fact, you might want to schedule those times into your calendar to remind yourself until you get the routine down.
Tip # 7: Do Your Most Important Task First Thing in the Morning
Many times our most important task is our least favorite. It might be to call new brokers or call potential investors or contact a seller. These are uncomfortable tasks and we like to put them off as much as possible. Urgent items are the PERFECT excuse!
Instead, schedule an hour of two for this important task and do it first thing in the morning, even before you check emails or do any other task.
It’s like going to the gym: you really don’t want to but you force yourself to go anyway, and then were glad you did. It’s the same thing with important tasks: you’d prefer NOT to do them but after you did you feel great.
Check out this video where I show you all this in action with my actual to-do list and email:
Urgent tasks that aren’t important are a reality of life. We can’t avoid them, they just happen to us. But we CAN influence how we react to them.
With anything in life, we have to be intentional. It’s the same thing with handling urgent tasks. We HAVE to make it a priority to handle them intentionally and consistently each and every day. Otherwise they will bring us down, keep us from accomplishing our goals, and make us feel unfulfilled.
I hope that the combination of these 7 tips will help you focus more on your important tasks that will get you closer to your goals and dreams. While I have not yet perfected all of them, I can tell you that they have made a MAJOR difference in my life, and I hope they will do the same for you.
Please share any other productivity or time management tips that have worked well for you!