It’s hard to know if all of the work you do at home or at work has an impact. But of course you already know that without a plan, you‘ll just flail and work on whatever somebody else decides is important.
This means you need to lay out a framework for what activities will advance you toward your goals. This quadrant framework has been used many times in the past by David Allen (GTD), Dwight D. Eisenhower and dozens of other productivity gurus. My take on it is a slight variation because it includes a feedback loop which makes the whole thing more effective because it’s self-correcting.
There are 3 major steps:
1. Establish your priority framework
2. Assign your time buckets to each
3. Record daily & reflect weekly
Here they are in more detail.
Establish your priority framework
It begins by creating a 4-quadrant matrix. (This is simplest for me to visualize and understand, but you can use any framework you like.) The horizontal axis is IMPACT, high IMPACT activities being furthest to the right, low IMPACT activities being furthest left. The vertical axis is EFFORT, low EFFORT being at the top and low being at the bottom. EFFORT could be replaced with “number of steps” or “people involved” or “time required”, whatever resonates with you.
Then you add numbers, which end up being your priorities.
Upper Right = 1 High IMPACT, Low EFFORT
Lower Right = 2 High IMPACT, High EFFORT
Upper Left = 3 Low IMPACT,Low EFFORT
Lower Left = 4 Low IMPACT, High EFFORT
Your framework is now complete.
Now you need to understand what impact means to you. If you are working on your own business, you need to decide if writing creating social media content is low or high impact.
If your business it trying to get more by traffic, likes, pins and retweets, then social media creation would be high impact. Impact is tough to define, but you need to create criteria to decide. Does it advance your business or merely keep it constant might be an example. More specifically, does it directly affect sales (more leads in the funnel) or is the sales impact indirect (admin or overhead type work).
Then you need to decide what your dividing line on effort might be. At my main job, I count anything that I need to wait on more than one other group to do something, that is high effort. For you, it might be something that takes more than 2 hours to perform. As long as you keep your rule consistent across all tasks, you can easily compare one to another and assign appropriate priority.
In this example, let’s say your dividing line between low and high effort is the 2 hour mark. If it takes you less than 2 hours to create the media and content for a social media post, you would be in the low effort half. Combining that with making social media posts being high impact, you now have this as Priority 1.
Another example would be public speaking to advance your business. Let’s say it takes you more than 2 hours to write a speech and find a place to speak, so this is a high effort, but still high impact activity, this would receive Priority 2.
Priority 3 are activities that are simple to do, but don’t have as big of an impact as the high impact activities. These might be activities that are more overhead or indirectly related to your main purpose.
Priority 4 are activities that are just as low impact as Priority 3, but they take a lot more effort to complete. For this reason, they can usually be eliminated or given less time. These might be meetings, unnecessary paperwork or other busy work.
2. Assign your time buckets to each
Now that you have an idea as to what falls in each category, here is when I assign target times. My Priority 1 stuff is the most important to me, so I want to spend a majority of my time on it, 100% if I can. But that isn’t always possible, there are always lower impact and higher effort tasks that I need to complete.
For this reason, I give Priority 1 target of 60% of my time, Priority 2 20%, Priority 3 10% and Priority 4 10%. This breaks out to Priority 1 taking up about 3 days out of my week (not always consecutively of course), Priority 2 with 1 day, and Priority 3 and 4 1/2 day each.
If you can eliminate Priority 4, you can definitely shift that time to other areas, which is encouraged. The only reason I include it with 10% is so there’s a holding place for some necessary Priority 4 tasks and 1/2 day is easy to visualize.
In a monthly setting, with 22 work days, this is the breakdown with some rough adjusting for rounding of days (working in half day increments):
Priority 1: 13 days
Priority 2: 4.5 days
Priority 3: 2.5 days
Priority 4: 2.5 days
Obviously, you can adjust these ratios to how you work best. Mine fluctuate weekly, but I shoot for these rough values.
3. Record daily & reflect weekly
Here’s where 95% of most people who get this far don’t seal the deal. You must actually follow your plan and adjust continuously for this to be an effective life management plan!
In essence, you need to categorize your tasks by priority and then see what ratio are in at the end of the week. I don’t even track time involved in each task because I know I won’t be diligent enough to always keep track of that. So an obvious flaw is that one P1 tasks might take 7 hours and 1 P4 task might take 1 hour but the ratio that day would be 50/50. I understand this flaw and accept it.
The goal is not to have a perfect ratio but to begin to think about your work in terms of how much you‘re working on things that matter vs things that don’t matter.
I’ve used this system since October 2015 and have seen a major shift in how I spend my time.
I use some tools to make this as easy as possible. First of all, I use digital means to do this. You could definitely do it by analog means (Bullet Journal) or otherwise, but this is what works for me and I’ve been consistent with it for over 3 months and I’m going to stick with it.
First, I created a google form that just asks 3 questions at the end of my work day.
1. What did you do today?
2. What did you struggle with?
3. What is the most important thing for tomorrow?
I use IFTTT (if you don’t know about IFTTT, it’s amazing, check it out!) to send myself an email with a link to this form every day at 4:00pm. I get this email and fill out the form daily, without fail, because I know I have to. This google form is fillable by mobile (which I usually fill out on the bus on the way home) and it’s connected to a google spreadsheet.
This spreadsheet is a catalog of what I’ve done at work, by day. At the end of the week, I schedule a 30 minute recap so I can review it. During this recap, I add a priority, quickly, to each task. Once each task has a priority, I make a pie chart to show the ratio of each type of task to each other. This gives me a snapshot as to what I was working on this week and how much of it was high impact or not. Admittedly, there is room for improvement.
In the future, I’d like to assign priority to each task before adding it to my calendar for the week. I actually do this in my head, but not on paper, which would help reinforce it.
Here are some examples of my weekly recaps.
(blue = P1, red = P2, yellow = P3, green = P4)
This has had a huge impact on my productivity and effectiveness at my job and people around me have noticed.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share. I love productivity tips, tricks, and hacks so please let me know.