How Prioritization Can Make You LESS Productive
Why you should stop prioritizing tasks on importance and urgency — and start using this framework instead
We often prioritize tasks based on two criteria: importance and urgency.
These two dimensions form the basis of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix for processing tasks. Depending on the importance and urgency of the task, we either Do, Decide, Delegate, or Delete it.
The Eisenhower Matrix is great for the day-to-day processing of tasks. But processing tasks only matters if we assume that the tasks are a part of your right path in life.
A friend of mine, I will call her Kathy, is the owner of a small consulting firm with 20 employees. She recently received a call from a major client who was interested in their services. However, this client was not going to be easy to work with.
At the first meeting, the client presented a laundry list of expectations. He would check in with them at least twice a week Kathy would need to adopt her procedures to suit his demands. At a follow-up meeting that included three of Kathy’s employees, the client listed even more demands. He also questioned each employee in a tone that bordered on being disrespectful. Finally, to test that Kathy’s firm would fulfill his needs, he gave them 1 week to complete a trial consulting project that would usually take 1 month.
Kathy was torn about what to do. The team had set a goal of doubling revenue this year and adding this client would have instantly made them reach that goal. But was it worth it? After pondering for hours, she eventually decided that it wasn’t. The next day she called the client to tell her how much she appreciated his consideration, but that they had decided to turn him down.
How was Kathy able to walk away from this opportunity? Because she knows that tasks don’t matter if they don’t align with your right path in life. And to assess whether a task is a part of your right path we should consider the task’s effectiveness and enjoyment.
Imagine a 2×2 matrix with tasks being either high/low in how effective they are at accomplishing your life goals and high/low in how enjoyable they are to do. For example, you might have a goal of being financially independent, but there are endless paths you could take to achieve this goal. Some paths will be more effective (more results for less effort) and some you will find more enjoyable.
This Path Matrix represents the four different types of paths you can operate within. And each path has its own Eisenhowever Matrix of tasks that are important and urgent for that particular path.
But here’s the thing: it’s 10X better to do a non-important, non-urgent task on a great path — than to do an important-urgent task on a mediocre path. The path you choose sets a ceiling on how great your life can be.
Now, imagine if your every day was full of these 1st quadrants activities that are both effective and enjoyable. You would be living your dream life then and there! Achieving success in life is not about accomplishing a set of goals. It is about getting to, and staying within, the 1st quadrant.
In Kathy’s case, accepting the client would have nudged her team’s path higher up on effectiveness, but it would also have nudged them down on enjoyment. And sometimes this might be a good deal. A professional soccer player may not love practicing dribbling, but she does it because she loves being a master more. Likewise, if you are offered $100,000/month for a 3-month job you loath, the short-term sacrifice could definitely be worth it.
However, if you don’t have a strong enough WHY that makes the shit-sandwich worthwhile, or if the task is not a temporary deviation from your path, then it is the wrong path.
A task might seem important because it is the most high-value task on your current path. But are you certain that your current way of accomplishing your goal is the best possible way available? Is there no better way to achieve your health goal than your current routine?
An extraordinary life is not reached by better prioritization of tasks. But by continuously finding more effective and enjoyable tasks to do. Use the Path Matrix first to find the right tasks, and use the Eisenhower Matrix second to give you the day-to-day focus.
In which areas of your life could you switch to a better path?
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