The Corona virus pandemic and the resulting lockdown(s) have made it difficult for most of us to deal with this ‘new normal’. The constant juggling that we find ourselves in while working from home, has created a never ending stress cycle, thus making most of us feeling overwhelmed and often clueless as to how to meet the endless demands of family, work and our personal self. While everyone is hoping or praying for a pre-COVID normality to return at the earliest and divine intervention seems to be the only hope, there is a simple technique which you can apply in your work and personal life to get back on top of your game again. The technique discussed below can be applied at our daily life, individual work or as teams.
First, start writing out a comprehensive list of all tasks that are discussed in every meeting and are consuming your headspace all day and night. Get them out of your head and write them on a piece of paper. If that’s too much then organise them by different projects, teams or domains such as work, home, family etc.
Next, take some time to organise these tasks against importance and urgency. Considering the tasks against an axis of importance/urgency, do the following:
First, understand how you measure a task’s importance. This can include probability of success, impact (outcome or leading indicators), strategic value alignment, cost, risk, must-have vs nice-to-have or competitive advantage.
Then consider how you measure urgency, whether by defining time-frames or consequences or benefits or cost of delay.
Finally, you will need to plot your tasks on the matrix below.
In the green corner you will place the tasks that are both important and most urgent. These are the top priorities that are time sensitive and critical to execute on. Rather than talking about doing them again and again, tackle them head on. They might be critical customer issues or supplier deadlines or to-dos that were pushed out from the week before and are now both important and urgent.
The yellow corner is for tasks that are important, but less urgent. These are tasks that are key for you to reach your goals but don’t need to be done right away. To prevent them from falling off your radar, schedule a specific time with an absolute, outer deadline. Perhaps, you need to create a business plan for a new strategic initiative, set up post-launch customer interviews or check-in with a newly hired team member. Often, if these items are ignored, they will change from simmering on the back-burner to boiling over.
The blue corner is for urgent tasks that are less important. These tasks are not central to your goals and are often opportunities for empowerment and teamwork. You can accomplish these tasks by unblocking projects that will enable others to succeed, encouraging autonomy, or pairing up on a problem. These to-dos can often easily be tackled with the help of others.
Finally, the red corner is for tasks that are both less important and less urgent. You’ll want to find ways to close these out quickly. Begin by pruning outdated tasks. For the remaining tasks, determine if postponing is the right call by assessing the negative impact and reversibility of consequences. We can also explore if some tasks can be converted into a quick win by completing them with reduced effort.
This importance/urgency matrix can also be useful when teams are lost and disorganized. Gather the team virtually or face to face and walk through the prompts for the different quadrants using MS Teams or Zoom whiteboards, or post-its and flip-charts.
Make sure that the team only focus on tasks which are clearly in its control and not waste time on tasks which are outside of its area. For task which you can’t control but can influence, identify the tangible ways you can push these tasks forward. For to-dos you can’t control and can’t influence, set them aside for now and watch and wait for conditions to change.
Keep this matrix dynamic by revisiting and redoing it at regular intervals as you accomplish your to-dos, new tasks emerge, and our context pivots. With this urgency/importance matrix, you can invest your energy where it is needed most and stay in control of your work.