The next time you want to say “I couldn’t…”, just replace it with “I chose not to…”.
And you’ll realize how you are prioritizing things on your plate.
Here are some examples…
“I couldn’t work on…” → “I chose not to work on…” “I couldn’t get back to you…” → “I chose not to get back to you…” “I couldn’t reach on time…” → “I chose not to reach on time…” “I couldn’t wake up…” → “I chose not to wake up…” “I couldn’t exercise…” → “I chose not to exercise…”
You get the idea.
The more you say “I chose not to…”, you’ll realize it’s you, who are responsible for not doing the things that you had promised to do.
Eventually, you’ll start prioritizing the things that matter to you.
How to achieve your goals with a popular prioritization framework
The other day I heard this quote while listening to a podcast episode:
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. — Stephen Covey
My instant reaction was — whatever 🙄! It sounds great to hear, but in the end, aren’t these two things still the same? The author is just making it catchy to remember it. And I moved on.
But it stayed on my mind over the weekend. I remembered it and kept thinking about it. I guess making it catchy to remember it actually worked!
So I decided to give it more thought and understand what’s the difference between these two phrases and specifically, what shall I get out of it.
The Prioritization Paradox
The phrase ‘prioritize what’s on your schedule’ seems to imply that you already have a bunch of tasks on your plate, and now you have to do bottom-up planning to shuffle them around in their relative order of importance and urgency. This seems to be more of a day-to-day execution mode.
On the other hand, the phrase ‘schedule your priorities’ implies you have an empty schedule and you think about your priorities first, then schedule them in its order of importance, and then come up with appropriate tasks. This seems to be more of a monthly or weekly planning mode.
The difference might sound subtle but I think there is something to it. Here’s another way of understanding it. Ask yourself these questions:
Do you want to slog through the laundry list, checking each item off, even if it’s not very useful and probably not contributing to your goals?
Do you want to start with your goals, prioritize them and then focus on the most important tasks that will help achieve your goals?
Obviously, you will agree that it’s later.
This leads to a question — how do you decide what is a priority?
Making prioritization choices seems like one of the biggest challenges we face on a day-to-day basis both in our personal lives as well in our professional life.
Which task should I do first? Is this task relevant to my goals? Is it worth spending so much time on this task?
Unfortunately, not enough people ask these questions on a daily basis. Largely because prioritization is a complex task, but also because they aren’t aware of how to do it effectively.
The Eisenhower Matrix
There is one time management process I had heard a few years ago that I have been following it somewhat loosely, but I think it can help answer some of the questions above. It is called the Eisenhower Matrix. Using a 4-quadrants matrix below, you will categorize your priorities or tasks based on four possibilities of the urgency and importance of a task.
Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)
Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate)
The great thing about this matrix is that while it’s best to be used for your monthly or weekly planning process, it can also be used for your day-to-day execution.
While it’s self-explanatory what each of these quadrants means, I will share how I use this process typically on a monthly and weekly basis.
Quadrant #1: Urgent and Important
These are the tasks that are urgent (maybe because I did not foresee earlier, or because some external event triggered it) and important (because something is dependent on it or something in which I have got the most context or knowledge about), I try to prioritize these as many as possible.
Examples of this type of my tasks are: following up with a prospect on the proposal, preparing requirements for the sprint planning based on customer feedback, following up with a candidate with offer details while she’s also interviewing at other companies, etc.
Quadrant #2: Important, but Not Urgent
These tasks are important (because I need to be involved in it) but not urgent (there is still some time to do it). I tend to schedule these on later part of the calendar so that the urgent tasks are taken care first, and then I can start working on these as time permits before they become urgent.
Examples of this type of my tasks are: working on product strategy and roadmap, refining our vision and differentiation, working on new marketing copy and website pages, etc.
Quadrant #3: Urgent, but Not Important
These are the most crucial tasks that you need to manage properly as they distract you from working on your most important tasks. A natural tendency is to work on the urgent tasks without really thinking too much if they’re really important or not (i.e. are they going to move the key needle of your goal or can somebody else do this instead of you).
These tasks I try to delegate as it’s less important for me to be involved in it, and maybe somebody else is better suited to do it and probably can do it sooner than I can do.
Examples of this type of my tasks are: doing timely accounting, bookkeeping, and taxes, etc. I definitely suck at these, so I learned to outsource these to who do it better.
Quadrant #4: Not Urgent and Not Important
These items are mostly distractions. So I try to delay them as much as possible or ignore them completely. This definitely helps simplify and declutter my to-do list and not feel overwhelmed.
Examples of this type of my tasks are: surfing the internet during the work-time, attending many meet-ups and conferences, meeting people over coffee/lunch without specific agenda, etc.
While I use this framework fairly regularly, I don’t use any specific tool to categorize each task diligently in different quadrants. That seems like overkill to me and make it too time-consuming.
But just being aware of this framework back of my mind while I am planning a week or a month, I have found it to be useful to identify and plan my top priorities to do first vs schedule some later, and also delegate and ignore other things.
I hope you’ll find it useful too.
Efficiency is doing things right; Effectiveness is doing the right things.
For the last 2 months, I deleted the Facebook app on my iPhone as a part of a casual experiment. Sounds crazy, right? Well, probably not to sane ones, but definitely to addicted ones.
Let me explain in detail.
Being mindful about my time
In general, I’m very observant and mindful about how I use my time. But there was one behavior of a mine I wanted to make sure I’m controlling it rather than it controlling me — the smartphone addiction.
Overall I believe I’m mindful of how I spend my time on my iPhone (my wife may disagree ;)), but still one fine day, I questioned the time I spend on some of the apps I use every day and the value I receive from each one of them.
I use Twitter, Nuzzel, and LinkedIn apps most actively to discover inspirational or actionable articles about startup and product management (the topics I’m passionate about). I also use Quora and Medium once in a while for interesting articles on varied topics. I use Pocket app to save all these articles and read it later when I’ve leisure time on weekends. Apart from these content-specific apps, I use WhatsApp and Facebook pretty actively for messaging and keeping a tap on friends’ activity respectively.
After ranking these apps based on its value I receive, WhatsApp and Facebook ranked last.
I felt WhatsApp is still valuable to communicate with close friends and family with the condition that I opt-out from all groups where sending forwards and jokes was a prominent activity than actual communication.
The value of Facebook
But for Facebook, I couldn’t convince myself that I was being “connected” with my friends the way it’s being advertised. I thought it was happening on WhatsApp on a more intimate level. My Facebook newsfeed is primarily a source for entertaining and political videos, photos of friends’ vacations and parties, and once in a while educational and informative articles/videos. Overall I felt, I’m not getting enough value from Facebook compared to the time I was spending on it.
Having that little Facebook app icon available to tap at your finger tip was a clear invitation to waste 10–15 minutes of your day every single time you open that app.
So I thought — what if I could just get rid of the Facebook app from my iPhone and see how it affects my life?
It sounded like a good idea — and boom, just like that, the app was gone!
And nothing happened in last 2 months. I didn’t miss the Facebook app at all.
Having said that, I’m not saying I didn’t access the Facebook website at all in those 2 months. Once or twice in a week, I would take an effort to open the Facebook.com in the browser on my iPhone. Since the experience is not very great on the mobile web browser, I wasn’t spending a lot of time on it. And I felt that was good enough Facebook consumption for me.
Every time I would access Facebook through the browser, I would encounter few updates from Mark Zuckerberg as I’m following him. And most often, I would be inspired by his thoughts, actions, and resolutions. And apparently I’m not the only one. There’re many men who find him as a lifestyle guru.
While I admire his posts about how a farmer in India benefited using Internet.org, I don’t agree that’s how most of the India or even the World is using Facebook. It’s a great story to tell for marketing purposes, but I’m concerned that most of the World use Facebook for passing their time.
Again, I do believe in Facebook’s network effect but realized that it’s better to put that network effect into a positive change than just for entertainment purposes. That’s when I realized, I have a choice to decide how do I want to use Facebook. And there are 2 aspects to it — i) what I should share on Facebook that will be valuable to my friends and ii) what my friends will share that will be valuable to me. While I can’t change my friends’ behavior, but, at least, I can start with me, and hope that it will inspire a few of them to do something similar.
What I plan to do
I plan to share more inspirational and informational videos of all kinds that I personally discover. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a serious person ;). Once in a while, I’ll share entertaining videos too :), but my focus will be on educating and motiving others.
In addition to that, I will share various problems that I observe, and possible ideas and solutions that could solve them. They may be half-baked, but I’ll share it anyways so that conversations will happen and those ideas might get baked by collaborative inputs and wisdom.
I also want to share some of the things that I’m working on and the lessons I’m learning — my day job, my part-time projects, my hobbies, resolutions, etc. I will not just share my success stories or accomplishments only, but will also share my struggles and failures.
What I hope others will do
While I make this my habit, which will take a while, I also hope other people also share similar things so that I and others can also learn from them.
While I’m very proud of people’s achievements when they share them, I’m more interested in hearing about their journey how they got there — including their ups and downs.
While I’m very happy to see photos of their vacation, I would love to read more about how did they plan it, what was their experience like or unique perspective they developed about that location, etc.
Anyways, you got the point. Let’s make Facebook informative, inspirational and personal.
We need to leverage Facebook’s massive reach to make a positive impact in the World rather than wasting people’s most precious resource — time, which many of them don’t realize it.
So I’ll be using Facebook actively again — just with a positive twist. And yes, I’ve downloaded back the Facebook app on my iPhone :).
As a startup founder, I observed that there are really 4 core resources that I work with every single day –
Each one has different level of importance and value at different stage of the company. All these resources are associated with each other in some way. Sometimes one is dependent on the other, and sometimes they’re exclusive to each other. Here are few examples how they’re associated with each other –
You may spend more money to save time, or you spend more time to save money.
You spend more money to get more people, or you have less people since you can’t spend money.
You get more people to do things in less time, or you take more time to do things due to shortage of people.
You can do more things in less time if you’re knowledgeable about it, or you need more time to do things as you don’t have prior knowledge about it.
You need to spend time to acquire knowledge, or you don’t acquire knowledge since you don’t have time.
You got the idea.
The point is — you’re constantly making decisions between these 4 resources and trying to figure out which one is more important than the other at that given instance. Sometimes you take rational decisions, and sometimes you take it based on your gut. But as a founder, you need to master the art of prioritizing these resources and understanding the importance of each resource at the different stage of your company — and that’s what they call — “execution”.