Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Prioritize Quarterly

I'm drifting off of social media topics for the moment, and onto something more businessy, org-designy, productivity-y, but since I heard the following advice on the radio this morning it has stayed with me.

I was bored with NPR (Wisconsin state politics has reached a kind of stasis with nothing new to report), and switched over to the online stream of my old favorite talk radio station from Sydney, ABC 702.  Since morning here is night there, I listened to Nightlife with Tony Delroy, and one of his guests was an expert in organization and efficiency and time management.  I didn't catch the guest's name but will look it up and try to include it here soon.

The lead topic was how to manage an email Inbox, but this didn't grab me because I conquered the Inbox problem many, many years ago and it gives me no trouble at all any more - my technique is that I read emails, but I never delete or file any of them, I just wait until Outlook shouts at me and I move the whole lot of them into a folder called "Inbox - Old".  Then two or three times a year I group the messages into batches and create archived pst files, extract them back out again, and bang, I can find everything I ever need using Search.  This has saved me countless hours, and I recommend the technique to anyone.  It also helps if you sort of think of projects based on the people who were working on them, but what kind of Relationship Marketer would I be if I didn't do that?

No, it was the second topic that really grabbed me.  Tony was asking about prioritizing tasks, and said, "So, do you pick certain tasks to focus on that day?" and I was nodding in agreement because this is something I've been trying to do recently, to just focus on the most important accomplishments that need to get done, fill in with other little things but really pick just two or three things that day which should get done before day's end, and which will feel like real achievements.

Well, no.  This expert thought that a daily priority list was far too small a unit.  In order to really work on the most important tasks, rather than work reactively on shorter-term urgent tasks, he recommended that you work quarterly.

Quarterly.  Every three months, pick out two or three things which will be your main focus for that three-month period.  Then go back into your schedule and make sure at least 60-70 percent of your time is scheduled to spend on those two or three most important goals.  Then fill the rest in with other smaller term or even reactive tasks, but the bulk of your time should be devoted to the main things you want to accomplish.  And then the big goals can be reviewed annually.

This is how objectives are set in workplaces, but I'd never even thought of operating on that time scale in my personal life.  Quarterly objectives!  What do I hope to accomplish three months from now?  It seems almost fancifully far away.  But when I think of the kind of thing that would be an appropriate three-month goal, I do find myself drawn to much more grand and ambitious thoughts than when I think of daily ones ("Get the tax return in the mail, for real, by 5pm."  "Load of dark laundry including towels."  "Buy milk."  That kind of thing).

It resonates with another principle I heard some years back, advice for people going through difficult times, especially those who might be close to despair and giving it all up.  If you can get the person to agree to hang on for three months, usually things will turn around and they will gain a different perspective.  And this person said it's because within three months, the seasons usually change.  The world looks different, either sunnier or snowier or more autumnal or verdant, and it can give a different perspective and that in itself sometimes gives hope.  People work well quarterly.  I'm going to try this new approach and see how it works.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ellen, I'm with you on the email inbox - I do the exact same thing (use 'Archive' in Lotus Notes rather than 'Inbox old' folder). Doesn't solve the problem of the quantity coming in though!

    Re quarterly planning, I swear by 'Your Best Year Yet', a book by Jinny Ditzler that contains a yearly planning process. I've bought over 10 copies for friends (many of whom also now rave about it). Have a feeling you might LOVE it!