The Lever #003: Get Your Priorities Straight
Updated: May 28
Its about Leveraging your skills to get maximum results in time available.
To do this you need to be focusing on the right thing at all times.
The Greatest Skill
All the systems in the world wont save you from working on the wrong thing.
Creating a schedule and sticking to it are an important step. But choosing what to work on is the critical piece. You can work on a high-leverage task that will have compounding benefits.
Or you can work on low-leverage tasks that will keep you from backsliding, but won't move you forward towards your goals.
Choosing what to do in any given moment is the most valuable skill you can cultivate.
And its not always easy.
Other people will impose their will on you (your boss, your family, your friends). Many of these you need to accept (with grace) but others you need to reject, especially if they are actively moving you away from your goals.
So how do you choose?
How many priorities do you have right now?
Not just personally but in your business too.
As we approach the end of the year you may find yourself in a strategic planning session at work, to determine the priorities for 2023. And chances are there will be a lot of them.
By defining your top-10 priorities you have already lost.
"Priorities" is a new word. Its not even a real thing. Because it is not plural. It is singular.
Priority stems from the Latin "In Prioritas" which means first in rank or order.
It is the "fact or condition of coming first in importance or requiring immediate attention; the thing regarded as more important than another or others."
It means the One Thing.
The word "priorities" is in fact less than 100 years old. It didn't begin to appear until the industrial revolution, and then only infrequently until about the 1940's, when time management experts began introducing multiple priorities, competing priorities, and levels of priority labeled as A, B, C.
This graph from GoogleBooks clearly shows the trend.
The simple fact however is that you cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. It’s science. Therefore, whatever you are doing in this moment has become your priority.
The question then remains; how to choose what actions to prioritize?
The answer lies in the definition above, with two driving factors:
First in importance
Requiring immediate attention
It’s a tough question, so I designed a tool to help you think about this in a different way and to help you decide.
The Time Value Matrix
Any discussion on choosing priorities will eventually lead to the Eisenhower Matrix being brought up. I think it’s a starting point, but simplistic for the modern age. You can read my thoughts here:
All tasks either need to be done, or they don’t. If they are necessary to move you towards your goals then do them. If they do not, or are only a "nice to have" then either deprioritize or ruthlessly eliminate them.
The Time Value Matrix then considers the necessary tasks that are left, the Value of those tasks, and the Time Horizon that they must be completed in.
The Time Value Matrix
Does it require immediate attention? That is Priority 1. There is no getting around it, you've just got to do it right now.
Priority 2 is where the magic happens. Its also where the danger lies. The work is high value but because of the long timeline it often gets delayed. Then, when it hits zone 1 you rush to finish the job and quality suffers.
Low value work that is due right away is Priority 3. Mowing the lawn (or scheduling a yard service) isn't exactly earth shaking, but it still needs to happen. Same goes for submitting expenses, or filing reports.
Finally, Priority 4 work is stuff you can and should systemize right out of your life. Delegate it, automate it, batch complete it. Or just wait until it gets a little closer and moves up the priority ladder.
By considering the overall value of each task and the time horizon in which it needs to be completed, you can quickly plug it into the matrix and prioritize the work.
Keep it Simple
The Time Value Matrix is a device to help expand your thinking and give you a tool to help define what is important in your life.
But don't overcomplicate things.
You can quickly define your priority in the moment using this one simple question:
"If I only got one thing done today, what would that have to be for me to feel like the day was a success?"
Prioritize getting that thing done.
• Consider task value and time horizon
• P1 requires immediate attention
• P2 is where the magic happens
• P3 is administrative work
• P4 - systemize or wait
• Priority = One Thing
Thank you for reading today.
I'm working on the final revision of my first book right now. Its about the productivity system I've developed over a 20 year career at sea as a ship's Captain, and in business as an executive.
Chapter 7 goes further into Prioritization and the science behind it.
The book will be released in January, and I am offering a free, advance copy for people who register interest before November 30th.
All I ask in return is for an honest review.
Sign up here: https://seanphogue.ck.page/
Yours in Productivity,
When you are ready, here are a few ways I can help:
1. Subscribe to my newsletter, The Lever
This covers a core time managment and productivity concept every week, in about five minutes.
Sign up at SeanHogue.com/thelever (or use the form below.)
2. Grab a copy of my book.
Peaceful Productivity outlines the time-management system I've created over the years as a ship's Captain and business executive. It will help you plan, prioritize, and get more of the right things done.
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