First things first (Quote of the Month, December 2010)
Do first things first, and second things not at all.
– Peter Drucker
The ability to set priorities, focus on them and not deviate may be the most important skill for success in life. The quote from Peter Drucker was written in the context of talking about business efficiency, but can be applied to any field. With limited time and energy that are available there are only so many things that can be done – no matter how many time management skills you learn. And because not all things get you the same return on investment it is important that you only do those things that are the best investment of your time, energy and also money.
Therefore it is important that you know what your real goals are, so that you can stop doing things that are in the way of your true priorities. And even among things that are important you don’t need to do everything yourself. Do only those things that you can do well and delegate the rest to others who can do it more efficiently – even if you have to pay them.
Of course people have a wide variety of goals: career goals, relationships goals, health goals, etc. And as much as it is important that you can focus on a single goal, it is also necessary to have a balance between work and relaxation. Otherwise you may get overworked and actually lose the ability to work efficiently. So you also need enough time for renewal and relaxation.
The solution is to set yourself large blocks of uninterrupted time during which you can focus on your priority tasks – one task at a time – so that you can gain momentum and complete the task better and faster. Multitasking and picking up old unfinished tasks over and over again can vastly increase the total time that is needed. But if you manage your work time efficiently you will have enough free time to relax as well.
How do you do all of this? How do you set blocks of uninterrupted time in the age of mobile phones, e-mail, instant messengers and other distractions? First of all, you decide to only do tasks that are on your list of priorities, your to-do list for that day. Refuse to do irrelevant tasks and refuse interruptions to divert your course of action. If possible turn all e-mail alerts off, sign off from instant messaging programs and turn your phone on silent mode. If you do not need internet for your current work, unplug the cable and work offline. Unless there is some real emergency, do not allow interruptions to change you plans. Put the new tasks on tomorrow’s list instead. That is, if they need to be done at all!