I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t yet read one of the most important books in … well, probably ever. Everyone recommends it. It’s quoted in thousands of articles. Even Amazon raves about it:
“When it was first published in 1989, [it] was an almost instant bestseller — and quickly became a permanent part of the cultural lexicon. With over 25 million copies sold worldwide in over 40 languages since its first publication, this book continues to help millions of readers become more effective in both their personal and professional lives.
“This is one of the rare books that has influenced presidents, CEOs, educators, and individuals all over the world not only to improve their businesses and careers but to live with integrity, service, dignity, and success in all areas of life. It has had an undeniable impact for the past 25 years — and will no doubt continue to be influential for many more.”
What is this book?
It’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.
I have no excuse for why I haven’t read it yet. For some reason, I just haven’t made time. But that’s going to change. It’s going to be the next book I read. Why?
Because Master Copywriter and successful entrepreneur Mark Ford (well-known by his pen name, Michael Masterson) said the most important lesson he learned about prioritizing came from Covey’s book.
“In that book,” Ford said, “Covey presents a technique for prioritizing that impressed me greatly and soon became a central part of my planning process.”
The Simple Technique For Making Progress
This prioritizing technique is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. I’ve been doing it for the past few weeks and I’ve seen a huge difference in my ability to make progress on my most important things first.
Here’s how to do it:
Divide your tasks into four categories:
- Not important, NOT urgent.
- Not important, but urgent.
- Important AND urgent.
- Important, but NOT urgent.
Important vs. Urgent
When I say “important,” I mean things that are important to you and will help you achieve your goals.
“Urgent” means anything that has to be done right away. For small projects, you might be facing a deadline of two hours or 24 hours. For larger projects with a deadline looming next week, you could label those urgent. If you’re feeling stressed about something, it’s probably because you feel it’s urgent.
To help you divide your tasks properly, let’s explore each of the four categories:
1. Not important, NOT urgent.
In this category, you would include all the things that suck up your time, but aren’t really necessary to your success. This includes surfing the Internet, shopping online, talking on the phone (with friends or non-business contacts), or replying to unimportant emails.
Before placing something in this category, ask yourself, “Is this really important to my success?”
Many of the tasks that appear in this area should not be done at all. I think you’d agree they are a waste of time — especially if you’re doing them during working hours. Shopping online, scrolling Twitter, and chatting with your friends are fine and great ways to relax. But, they should be done AFTER your most important work of the day is finished.
If you find yourself killing time (or procrastinating) by checking off tasks in this area, ask yourself, “What big goal am I avoiding making progress on?”
Whatever your answer, that’s what you should be doing.
2. Not important, but urgent.
These tasks are even worse than the “not important and not urgent” tasks. Why? Because they aren’t important and they don’t move you forward in your goals. But, they are “urgent” — either because they have a deadline or someone else is waiting.
Some examples of this are attending or planning meetings that don’t get you closer to your goals, buying or researching something because it’s “on sale,” or making a trip to the post office because something has to be mailed today.
Make it your goal to never have anything in this category. If you do, ask yourself, “How did this get here? And, could I have handled it before it became urgent?”
For example, you could have bought stamps online — without leaving your home — a week ago. That would have eliminated a trip to the post office today.
Often these tasks can also be rescheduled or delegated. Could you have someone else buy your stamps?
Also, in some cases, these tasks could be marked out completely …
Could you call or email rather than sending a physical letter? If so, no need for stamps — or a trip to the post office.
3. Important AND urgent.
Important AND urgent? You might think you should give these tasks your priority. But, according to Covey and Ford, this is a mistake. Why? Because you’re constantly fighting against the clock. This will wear you out and zap your creativity.
In this category, you might list last-minute edits to a project that’s due tomorrow, preparing for a prospecting call that happens in an hour, solving problems that pop up and need immediate attention.
“All urgent tasks — both unimportant and important — are problematic,” Ford adds. “They are urgent because you’ve neglected something or because they are important to other people (like your boss). In either case, you need to find a way to keep most of them from winding up on your daily to-do list. This means making some changes in your work habits — usually a combination of being more efficient and delegating more chores to other people.”
To accomplish your goals — yes, even the ones you’ve been neglecting — you must give priority to the next category …
4. Important, but NOT urgent.
In the “important, but NOT urgent” category, you would list all the things that will help you get closer to your major, long-term goals.
This is where you should start daily. These tasks are priority. In other words, your FROG should be on this list.
For me, this is writing or practicing my writing, setting up passive income streams, and making connections with other business owners.
You might also include working on your book (or big business card), writing a Money-Making Website, or preparing a speech for a networking event.
Do one “important, but NOT urgent” task first — before anything else — including checking email, putting out fires, or running errands.
This won’t be easy at first. Ford says it’s because “the important, but not urgent tasks whisper, while the urgent tasks shout.”
Maybe because these tasks aren’t urgent, you feel like they’re less important, but remember, these are the tasks that support goals you’ve been putting off. If you’re in the habit of neglecting these goals, you may be afraid of tackling them.
If that’s the case, start using this little technique to eliminate “urgent” tasks, find the most important tasks, and focus on them first.
It may be uncomfortable at first, but by making progress on your most important goals, you’ll feel great! You’ll be able to stop responding to everything around you and instead do what you feel is important.
“Accomplishing something you’ve been putting off is energizing,” Ford says. “It will erase some doubts you have about yourself — doubts caused by years of ‘never getting to’ your long-term goals. That extra energy and confidence will grow, and will fuel you throughout the day.
“This will make it easier for you to accomplish other important, but not urgent tasks. As the days go by, you will realize that you are making measurable progress toward your neglected goals.”
Try this technique for just a week and I bet you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.
So what about you? What are your most “important, but NOT urgent” goals? Will you be trying this technique to help you achieve them? Let’s talk in the comments below …