We’ve all got ‘stuff’ to do, and I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to, I could literally be doing ‘stuff’ from the moment I get up until I go to bed. It would be easy to bury myself in work and be busy morning, noon and night. But, here’s the rub!

Busyness is not the same as effectiveness

So how do you ensure you effective and not just spinning your wheels? What makes the biggest difference is knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to, to increase our level of effectiveness. I often come across people who are technically very good at their job and yet they have issues around being really effective.

How do you make sure you’re effective and not just busy?

One way is to begin with two categories: Important and Urgent. Not everything that’s important is necessarily urgent. What’s most likely to get our attention, however, are the urgent things. Some urgent things can’t be avoided, but often the things we think of as urgent are just things we are used to ‘reacting’ to. Take a ringing phone for instance; when it rings, what do you generally do? If you’re like most people, like Pavlov’s dog, you’ll answer, when it rings. It’s the ring that demands your attention, and you’ve been conditioned to respond. And, so you do. You could be in a meeting, on a date or spending time with someone and the instant the phone rings interrupting what you’re doing, invades the space of who you’re with, and grabs centre stage. We wouldn’t tolerate someone barging into our conversation, or our office. That’s the impact urgent can have on our lives.

The phone seems to shortcut that whole process and takes priority

Exercise is important but it generally isn’t what you’d call urgent; it doesn’t have a deadline as such unless you’re competing at an elite level. There’s nothing demanding you to do it, except for the demand you put on yourself. And, unless you have a high degree of discipline, it’s easy to ‘bump it’ for some other, more interesting or so-called urgent activity. The problem is, when you consistently bump important things eventually, they become not only urgent but critical. Exercise, or lack of it, is a perfect example of this. If you put it off for long enough there comes a point in which you will have to deal with a far more serious problem.

Being Proactive works and saves you a lot of grief

Here’s the paradox of it all, if you tackle with what’s important, over time you’ll have less and less urgent things on your list to deal with. It’s the essence of what it is to be proactive and forward-thinking rather than reactive and always playing catch-up. You can spend your time reacting to everything around you, which means you are falling into someone’s agenda or dealing with someone else’s crisis, or you can take the time to work out what really matters and prioritize accordingly.

Prioritizing what’s important is easier to do if it’s already in line with something you value highly. If you want to know what someone values, look at the way they spend their time. That will tell you everything you need to know. Lip service aside. Back to the ringing phone that intrudes into your space…

What does it say about the person you’re with and how you value the relationship?

There are two more categories than are useful in cutting down the mountain of work you have in front of you. Those categories are Important and not urgent and lastly Not important and not urgent. If something is neither important or urgent there’s a good chance you can delegate the task to someone else. Check-in with yourself and assess whether or not it aligns with your values or forwards your goals and then decide what to do.

Things that are not important and not urgent and often fun, but they can be big time wasters chewing up hours and hours. They are activities akin to chocolate, high calories with no real nutritional benefit. These activities are best either eliminated altogether or, like chocolate eaten on rare occasions, if at all. I know chocolate is hard to give up. It’s this category of things and activities where we tend to default to when we are procrastinating.

And, why do we procrastinate?

There are any number of reasons why we procrastinate. They range from avoiding negative feelings and fear of failure to perfectionism. In the words of Tim Urban, long term procrastination can make you feel like a spectator in your own life. Any way you look at it when you are procrastinating you’re not being responsible; you are ‘below the line’. Any below the line behaviour is unconscious, avoidant (think binging on Netflix or any other streaming platform) and keeps you stuck.

It will take effort to bring yourself back above the line and the efforts are always worth it.