To Do List

No 4. The Most Simple Time Management System

Years ago, I attended a Franklin Covey, time management course, which has been one of the best investments I ever made in myself.  It forever changed the way I approached my daily, weekly and monthly planning and was the beginning of my quest for ultimate productivity.  The course inspired me to read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which became a bible to me; a book I read, outlined and studied for over two years. 

One of the core concepts is the Four Quadrants (see diagram below).  The top row represents important tasks, the bottom row, unimportant tasks; the left column urgent tasks and the right, not-urgent.  The goal is to shift our focus away from unimportant and urgent tasks and create increasingly more space for Quadrant 2 activities, which are important and not urgent.  In essence, we do “first things first,” essential tasks before they become critical. 

Quadrant 2 tasks are all the things that drive our business and often require large blocks of time: planning, revenue-generating activities, business and relationship development, identifying new opportunities, underwriting projects, design time, etc. 

The Four Quadrants - Franklin Covey

The Four Quadrants - Franklin Covey

While making a daily to-do list is helpful, doing the most important things first assures we create consistent space for daily action toward the attainment of our long-term goals.  We can easily become bombarded responding to email, messages, and interruptions.  Most emails and messages are not urgent, and many are unimportant or imply an urgency that is not consistent with our priorities.  In my next blog post, I will expand on this concept of working in shifts and “the Monk Morning.”

I worked at Cisco Systems for six years and, during that time, I learned that our CEO, John Chambers, who remains one of my heroes, set a daily goal to do just three things.  Building on this process, I refined my daily schedule to a simple, four-item task list.  To help narrow my selections, I ask myself the question, “what four things can I do today that will leave me feeling effective and joyful.”

Simple Daily Time Management System:

 •    Meditation and Movement (non-negotiable)

1)    Quadrant 2 task (1) - ex: Write blog and Social Media for online retail business – 1 hour

2)    Quadrant 2 task (2) – ex: 4 calls to new suppliers or equity partners – 1.5 hours

3)    Quadrant 1 task or an investment in myself – ex: research, reading, etc. – 30 min

4)    Personal item or an additional Quadrant 1 or 2 task

 Tactics that have helped elevate my focus and productivity:

-    Break things down into bites – staring at a list that is too long leads to disappointment and stress (as a over-achiever, this is my most challenging parameter to remember)

-    Restrict email to specific intervals – I check three times/day

-    Minimize distractions - only use notifications for meeting reminders, turn all others off

-    Be flexible – Work ebbs and flows, at times you have five, six or maybe only three items

-    This is real life - include necessary personal items in your daily lists

-    Embrace imperfection - some days are overwhelming and some days we have to respond to incoming distractions and emergencies.  Be gentle with yourself; tomorrow is a new day. 

Another of my favorite business philosophers is the late Jim Rohn who said, “failure is not a cataclysmic event that happens overnight, it is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.” Inversely, success is a series of daily disciplines that ultimately bring greater happiness and the fulfillment of our long-term desires.