I want to tell you a secret: You have enough time to do everything you need to for your business.
“No!” you say. “I’m really busy! I literally don’t have time!”
Listen, I hear you. We’re all busy. We looove busy. We glorify busy. So, ok, fine: you’re busy. But that doesn’t mean everything you’re doing is necessary.
Before you close out of this post muttering to yourself that I’m an asshole, let me ask you something: have you ever had one of those days where you felt really busy, but at the end of the day, you have no idea what you accomplished?
It happens to the best of us. It definitely happens to me. I get sucked down the email rabbit hole, or lose hours of my life on Facebook, or spend half the day reformatting my About page for no reason. That’s what I mean when I say we’re not as “busy” as we think we are-- often, we just don’t have our priorities straight.
And without clear priorities, you could literally do anything. Or, to put it another way, you try to do everything. Which is what keeps us “so busy.”
Step 1: Get it on paper
Grab your planner and list out everything you need to do this week.
Seriously, go for it. Make a crazy-long list of allll the things. I make two columns, one for my work and one for my personal life. Just getting it out of my head and on paper helps me feel less overwhelmed and more in control of my time.
Step 2: Understand the difference between urgent and important
This is the foundation to prioritizing. Essentially, before you try to prioritize your to-do list, you need to understand how important each task really is. And to do that, there are four buckets your tasks can fall into.
Flow tasks: Important and Urgent
Flow tasks are tasks that help you achieve your goals and are also time-sensitive. They are the tasks other tasks hinge on-- the things that get you paid and move your business forward. When you plan your day, your first task should be your most urgent flow task.
That said, a note on “urgent” flow tasks: be aware of why the task is urgent. Was it truly unforeseen (like a last-minute client request) or did you create the urgency by ignoring it or procrastinating? Being aware of why something has become urgent helps you plan your days better to avoid running after time instead of controlling it.
Foundation tasks: Important, not Urgent
Poor Foundation. These are the tasks you know are important, yet you never seem to get to them. Foundation work always seems to get pushed to the back burner.
And we all do it. Look at me, I’ve been putting off getting an accountant for 6 months now. I know it’s important, but I never seem to find the time to do it.
The problem is that these Foundation tasks, by definition, are the structure that holds everything else up. Without a strong foundation, the other pieces won’t be as stable. Your Foundation work is what helps you reach your goals in the long run. It isn’t urgent, but without the Foundational work, you’ll never move forward.
Fires: Urgent, not Important
So, the first two buckets are clearly the most important, yet most of us spend the majority of our time here, fighting Fires.
Let's be realistic: there will always be fires. And sometimes those fires might even be important: your website is down, your client is angry, someone needs something from you rightthissecond.
But often, fires are created by someone else’s priorities, not your own. It’s not always easy to differentiate the two, so here are some questions I ask myself to decide whether a task is Flow or Fire.
Does this help me achieve my goals or someone else’s goals?
If it’s someone else’s goals, ask yourself: Are that person’s goals more important to me than my own?
And the answer might be yes: your client’s priority might become your priority if your contract depends on it. That’s perfectly fine, as long as it’s a conscious choice.
What will happen if I don’t do this right now?
What’s the worst case scenario if you ignore this fire? Here’s what I mean, tell me if this sounds familiar:
You get back to work after a day off and you see two emails from the same client. This first says, “URGENT!” and has a question or request that is clearly important to the sender, along with a tight deadline.
Bonus points for multiple exclamation points and caps.
Then, a couple hours later, the second mail, which says, “Nevermind, I figured it out. Thanks anyway.”
Now imagine you had been checking your email when that first request came in. You might have seen the CAPS and !!!!! and dropped everything you were doing because this person NEEDS you-- when clearly, that’s not actually the case.
Don’t let someone else’s emergency automatically become your priority.
Fluff: Not Urgent, not Important
Oh Fluff. Good ol’ time-wasty, mindless Fluff. The stuff a procrastinator's dreams are made of.
Fluff looks different for everyone, but you know when you’re doing it-- usually because when you’re doing it, you should be doing something else.
But Fluff isn’t inherently bad. It’s perfectly fine to take breaks and do something mindless. Some Fluff is even useful: if I’m trying to build my Pinterest following, it’s legitimately important to spend time on Pinterest, as long as I’m promoting my blog posts instead of pinning Zoodle recipes.
The key here is to be aware of when you are doing Fluff and limit it.
Step 3: Plot your priorities
Now that you have a feel for what's important, what's urgent and what's neither, grab another sheet of paper and make 4 quadrants or columns, naming them Flow, Foundation, Fires, and Fluff.
Write in ALL of your to-do items in the appropriate column based on their importance and urgency.
You might notice that the “Fluff” and “Fires” quadrants are empty. Don’t worry. Fluff and Fires always find a way into your life, whether you want them to or not.
Step 4: Plan your day according to your priorities
The last step is to make your priorities… well… priority. Plan every day to include at least one Flow task and one Foundation task.
And as always, be realistic about what you can actually accomplish each day. Don't plan more than three key tasks and make sure those get done before moving on to Fluff or letting yourself get distracted by unimportant Fires.
All of this said, shit can still go haywire even with the best prioritization system in place. There will always be an urgent client request or a sick kid or a last-minute project. That’s normal. Hell, that’s what makes running your own business exciting.
The goal isn’t to have every day be perfect, mainly because that’s impossible-- and also super boring. No, the goal is to proactively take control of your day, rather than always reacting to other people's needs.
Because the reality is: you get to decide how you spend your time.
You didn’t start a business to let your day be dictated by other people, you started a business to make those decisions yourself. You started a business to have control over your time-- and your life. You started a business to be your own boss.
So be a good one.