How do you decide what to do?

Photo courtesy of The Inadvertent Gardener (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of The Inadvertent Gardener (Creative Commons)

When you get to your desk at work each morning, how do you decide what to do first? And next?

If you are like me, it’s other people who decide what you do a lot of days. You’ve got email waiting, the red light is shining bright on your phone like a beacon indicating all the voice mails you have waiting, post it notes clutter your desktop, and there are stacks of files or papers on your desk or in your chair. So and so has been looking for you, says a co-worker as you walk in. Then there’s the stack of client files that need to be entered so you dive right in.

So much for the focused hour on that project you had scheduled with yourself, and forget planning time. You jump right in responding to everyone else’s priorities and “emergencies.”

I’m not advocating being unresponsive to others, but sometimes you need to protect that project or planning time, especially when it pertains to things that will be beneficial going forward.

For instance, we changed databases at work last year, and I faced the challenge of needing to learn it and stay up to date entering all the client information, and yet also find time to train my volunteer data entry team on the new system. The longer I delayed training them, the more work I was creating for myself. But setting up training documents and getting them up to speed took away from time I could be entering. It was quite a dilemma.

I finally realized that it was critical for me to take time to put together that training and go over it with them. Having them enter information correctly so all I do is spot check takes a huge load off of me now because it frees me up to do other work that they are not able to do. It helps me accomplish more in a week because I’m not doing every bit of data entry. But for a couple of days, I had to let things back up while I put together the training.

In his new book Procrastinate on Purpose, Rory Vaden shares the popular grid that talks about Urgent vs. Important tasks, but adds a third layer to his diagram. He suggests that we also need to consider Significance in determining our priorities. In other words, how will what I’m doing today improve things later on?

He says, “There are things I can do today that will make tomorrow better. There are choices that I can make now that will create more space later.”

So when I was developing the training for my volunteers, I had to consider the significance of saving time in the future not having to enter all that information. The time spent THEN has saved me tremendous amounts of time SINCE. Plus, my volunteers know they are doing important work so that also makes their volunteer experience more enriching.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the urgency of having to get things done right now, and of having to do it all. Spinning my wheels chasing tasks that could easily be done by someone else is a trap – and one that I fall into often.

According to Vaden, “We haven’t believed in ourselves enough to zero in on what is going to have the most Significant impact rather than the one that is just going to have the most immediate impact.”

He goes on to tell us, “The only way you can’t appropriately pay back everyone who has helped you become who you are is to trade the Significant things that you are supposed to do for the insignificant ones.”

In other words, if I stay “busy” entering all that client data myself, then I deprive myself and my organization of the many other accomplishments I might have achieved had I trained my team and freed myself up for other work.

How would your life change if you layered Significant on top of Urgent and Important when determining what to do each day?

2 thoughts on “How do you decide what to do?

  1. Taking time to work on the “big picture” is so important and needed. Good message.

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