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Priority-Based Time Management ~ “Rocks, Pebbles & Sand”

Quick and easy time management hack that change your life- free training & printable.

Have you ever felt like you’ve gotten nothing done all day, even after checking 20 things off your list and you’d been “busy” almost non-stop? This used to happen to me ALL the time, (and there are times when it still does!) Today I’ll solve the mystery for you about why that happens. And guess what? It’s a super simple fix!

First Things First

Let me start by telling you a story. This is one I remember hearing years ago as a teenager, but was powerful enough for me at the time to have stuck with me so many years later.

I’ve been thinking about this story a lot lately since I’ve been working on a new time management course to share with you, and just couldn’t wait to share the story with you because I know you’ll love it too. I hope it resonates with you too, and that you can find ways to apply it to your own life and situation.

I actually didn’t remember where the story came from at first, but since I know that might be important for you to know, I did a little research and found that its original author is unknown, and that it has taken on many different forms and wording through the years. Since I’m an avid Steven Covey fan, I’ll share his version, which he shared in his book: “First Things First.”

I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist-sized rocks on it. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.

After we made our guess, he said, “Okay. Let’s find out.” He set one rock in the jar . . . then another . . . then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. Then he asked, “Is that jar full?”

Everybody looked at the rocks and said, “Yes.”

Then he said, “Ahhh.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He then dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Then he grinned and said once more, “Is the jar full?”

By this time we were on to him. “Probably not,” we said.

“Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went in all the little spaces left by the rocks and the gravel. Once more he looked at us and said, “Is the jar full?”

“No!” we all roared.

He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, “The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

“The Big Rocks of Life”- Dr. Stephen R. Covey, First Things First

Awesome, right?

Let’s break it down bit together, because I want to make sure we fully understand the implications this story is trying to teach us. Watch the short video below, or read the breakdown if you prefer. Either way, don’t forget to download the free printable below to determine the “Rocks, Pebbles and Sand” of your own life, and begin outlining your own tasks and where they might fit most effectively within your day.

Watch It!

Read It!

(Most, if not all, of the information below is included in the above video, but I’ve included it here, in written form, for your convenience.)

So let’s break this concept down.

The Jar

Imagine for a moment, that your day is represented by an empty jar. You can’t get a bigger jar- you’re only allotted the space that fills the single jar. Everything you want to do each day must fit into the jar, or it doesn’t get done.

In the story, the facilitator had three different items that each demonstrated different things that need to be done in the day. Some are large, some are medium and some are small.

The Rocks

The rocks in your life represent the SUPER important things that HAVE to get done or you might face strict consequences for ignoring. Rocks are your most important, highest priority items- the items you NEED to finish during the day. The things that would have the most positive impact in your life.

The tasks or categories of task items that the rocks represent will be different for you than for everyone else, but here are some ideas.

  • Spouse or significant other
  • Your Kids
  • Faith or Religion – activity and personal study
  • Extended family
  • Your Health
  • Critical tasks with deadlines ending today

You get the idea. This is definitely not an exhaustive list. Certainly I left some things off that are most important to you, and maybe some of the ones I included don’t apply to you at all. These are just ideas of the types of “rocks” you might have right now, but your job is to look at your life and determine the things you NEED to accomplish today. These are your Rocks.

Follow along with me by downloading your free printable below, and set your rock type and priority system as we go.

Download the printable!

Determine your own personal priorities using the "Rocks, Pebbles & Sand" Time Management Technique.

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Quick and easy time management hack that change your life- free printable.

Pebbles

Pebbles are the secondary tasks or life categories- the things that you SHOULD do, but aren’t quite as important as the rocks. Or they could be things you want to do, but are less important than the things you’ve already labeled as Rocks. Some ideas are:

  • Work or School (you can always find a new job or retake a class if you need to, but you can’t get a new family, or a new body, or a new faith.)
  • Social circle (spending time with friends is always fun and even necessary for personal growth and care, but for you, should it come before your health and your family? You decide.)
  • Community projects like volunteering at a shelter or helping out in your kid’s school or church.
  • Other Important tasks that might not need to be completed today, but that you’d like to do if you can.

Like before, you’ll have to look through your list and decide which things are of mid-range importance. Which things, though they could be important, can be pushed or moved to a different day if necessary, or even just abandoned all together (if it came to that?)

Your Grains of Sand

These are the things you do for fun. To “de-stress”. Things that are optional or have less impact on your overall goals. Things that you’ll do if you can get to it, but are simply less important than the “Rocks” or “Pebbles” of your life.

These tasks are small and seemingly unimportant, but we tend to fill our day with them without realizing it, because they’re easy and give fill us with “instant gratification” from completing “quick wins”. They make us feel that just because we’re checking a bunch of stuff off our list, we’re automatically being productive.

These are things that, though we need some fun in our lives, they can essentially be removed without too much impact on our overall goals and dreams. Things like:

  • Watching Netflix for three hours at a time.
  • Social Media
  • Hobbies & Crafts
  • Gaming
  • Small, optional tasks. (Only you can decide what’s optional and what’s not.)

Again, please don’t think I mean that these activities are inherently bad and have no place in our day- All I’m suggesting is that they alone shouldn’t completely fill your “jar”. Setting and maintaining priorities is essential to a happily balanced life.

The Jar of Life

Let’s now return to the Jar in the story, the Jar of Life. As you complete things during the day, you start to fill the jar with different sizes of items that represent the items or tasks on your schedule. Rocks for big tasks; Pebbles for medium ones, and grains of sand for the small, inconsequential ones.

The problem though, is that so many of us fill our day with the “small” stuff first. We do the “easy” things first. The “fun” things. The ones that give us the most instant gratification. I mean who doesn’t like a “quick win”, right?

But here’s the thing: if we put all the sand grains (small tasks) in first and then the pebbles (the medium tasks), the jar is going to be full before you even get to your “rocks” (big/important tasks). Even if you try to cram just a few of those rocks in anyway, everything starts spilling out onto the floor, and the most important things in your life are forgotten, neglected, or abandoned. It’s like suddenly it’s bedtime and you’re now left feeling like you really haven’t done anything important all day.

And here’s the important part:

This is why we’re feeling overwhelmed, guilty, unproductive, inefficient, stressed and lost in our lives. It’s not because we’re lazy or have no internal drive to complete what’s on our list- it’s just that no matter how many grains of sand you place in your jar, they’ll never make up for ignoring the “rocks” in your life.

Here’s the good news:

We get a fresh start everyday. Each day we’re given a brand-new empty jar, and we get to make a new plan on how we’re going to spend our day.

Things didn’t go well yesterday? Tomorrow’s your chance to start again. You’re not stuck repeating ineffective processes over and over. Figure out what you need to change, make the adjustments and never stop re-evaluating. Constant evaluation equals growth.

So let’s see what happens if we do the important stuff first.

If we put the “Rocks” of our life in first, they’ll all fit in easily. (Unless, of course, you’ve got too many rocks. In that case, you’ll have to choose some to reclassify into pebbles or sand. Your whole list can’t be “critically important”, because then nothing is. The value of an object is measured by it’s relation to others it’s next to. If everything holds the same value to you, nothing holds any value.)

Once you’ve got your rocks (your most important, highest quality items) in your jar, you can start to fill it with the NEXT highest prioroty items: your pebbles. The smaller, yet still substancial, though not as substancial as the previous rocks. They should fit in easily around the rocks, and you’ll be suprised how many can fit, even though the jar looks full with the rocks.

And finally comes the sand. Where you thought you wouldn’t find room, sand can always find a way to fit itself into a small space. Tiny little 15 minute bits of time that maybe couldn’t be filled with a rock or even a pebble. And yet… because they’re the “fun” things we look forward to, we still find a way to fit them in.

You see, the difference here is that the pebbles and sand, being smaller, are more flexible and can be moved around within the jar into places the rocks never could. This is why the rocks need to come first. The rocks are rigid, unchanging, unadaptable. Pebbles and sand are not. (Essentially meaning that you shouldn’t be compromising your family’s general safety or happiness in favor of fitting in a couple episodes of your favorite show.)

Keep in Mind

I know some aspects of this “Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand” metaphor can seem confusing or even contradictory. Here are some points of clarification, along with some things I want you to remember:

  • Though the story has many life-applicable teaching ideas, it is, at the end of the day, still an analogy. Please don’t take it too literally and try to sort your list by size (time it might take to complete) or try to stuff 100 things into one day because that’s how many literal rocks, pebbles, and grains of sand might fit into a jar. The items are used metaphorically to demonstrate how we can get more done when we focus on the important things first. It’s likely you won’t finish everything on your list every day, but that’s where the story shines- it teaches you to focus on the MOST important things first, so that IF things don’t fit into your jar, you know which to put in first.
  • You must choose your own tasks, categories, and priorities. Though I’ve given some examples of what works for me, you can’t go by my life completely. Start with my ideas if you’d like, but definitely take the time early on to determine what is most important to YOU. Without doing this homework, all further time-management techniques will be completely ineffective for you, because your life will have no personal progression or plan.
  • On the days you just can’t get all your pebbles and sand in the jar no matter how well you plan, don’t let yourself get frustrated. It’s perfectly ok, and it’s bound to happen more than once. That’s where this concept of the “Jar of Life” helps- the beginning steps of the exercise suggests that you choose your rock type for each item or category based on how important it is that it gets done TODAY. As long as you’ve completed all your “Rocks” each day, everything else is basically just a bonus, right? You can rest easy knowing you’ve done your absolute best within your personal circumstances.

I hope that you’re beginning to see the power this concept can have in your life- once you determine your BIG ROCKS, you’ll be able to see the things that you need to focus on FIRST in your life, setting the other “smaller” things aside until those most important things are tackled.

To help you do that, I’ve created a simple worksheet that you can go through in just a few minutes. It has spaces for you to determine and then record your Rocks, your Pebbles, and your Sand. Then, you’re prompted to make a plan on the changes you can make to ensure you’re filling your jar with your “Rocks” first every day. Download below.

To help you do that, I’ve created a simple worksheet that you can go through in just a few minutes. It has spaces for you to determine and then record your Rocks, your Pebbles, and your Sand. Then, you’re prompted to make a plan on the changes you can make to ensure you’re filling your jar with your “Rocks” first every day. Download below.

Download the printable!

Determine your own personal priorities using the "Rocks, Pebbles & Sand" Time Management Technique.

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Quick and easy time management hack that change your life- free printable.

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Bundle FAQs!

If you still have questions, keep reading!

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I totally get your concerns. I’ve been a customer of Ultimate Bundles for years and I can tell you that these bundles are truly a great value. Even though a blogger may be including their product in a bundle that costs less overall than their individual product, creators get exposure to new potential readers, which can pay off in big ways later. And when you buy a bundle through your favorite blogger (hopefully me!), you’ll support them, too! Plus, the bundle is offered for such a short time that they can go back quickly to selling their product at full price.

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Why We Procrastinate?

We procrastinate for different reasons. Discover why you may be putting things off and recognize when you’re procrastinating, and why. This is the first step to fixing the behaviors and making the best use of your time so that you can accomplish all the things you desire.

Procrastination.

Everyone does it, including you. Some do it more than others, but if you try to say that you’ve never procrastinated, chances are you’re lying to yourself.

What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is putting off until tomorrow the things you just as easily could finish today.  It’s postponing or needlessly delaying accomplishing something because you don’t have the desire or motivation to complete it.

Let’s be clear though- procrastination is not prioritizing more important tasks or choosing the “best” activity each day. If something is honestly more important in a moment, it’s probably the best choice.

Procrastination is putting off the things you need to finish because you don’t want to do them, or you feel unfocused or unmotivated. It’s giving into distraction and pleasure as a way to distance yourself from the unpleasant task, even for a short time.

Are You a Procrastinator?

I know I am. I make a lot of excuses for it- that I work best under pressure, or that I’m “too busy” with other things, but the truth is- typically a task probably won’t get done until about the time it’s due.

I’m trying to do better though. Through the years I’ve picked up a few tricks to help me get ahead of my list so I can be more in control of my schedule, rather than letting it control me.

One thing that helps me minimize procrastination is to recognize when it’s happening, as well as why. Instead of just jumping right into trying to “fix” the problem, this allows me to look at the situation more objectively, so I can repair the cause, rather than just the result. Removing procrastination is more than just “getting down to business.” It’s the symptom of something else. I have to discover the illness first- the reasons my brain doesn’t want to complete the task. This way, the repair is healthier, longer-lasting, and more effective.

Understanding the Consequences

I’m sure you recognize the concept of consequences. The fact that once an action is taken, something else will occur as a result.

Consequences aren’t something we can control. They just happen. Sometimes they’re imposed by the people around us, sometimes they’re just the natural effect of a choice we’ve made. Either way, once we make a decision and act on it, we enact a tier of consequences as a result of that choice.

As a teacher, I’d often share the following Stephen Covey quote with my students: “We are free to choose our actions, . . . but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.”

There are many types of consequences. There extrinsic (or external – outside yourself) and intrinsic (or internal – in your mind/body) consequences. Natural (unstoppable consequences that “just happen” within the natural world) and Logical (imposed by others).

Think, for a second, about a student who puts off studying for an exam or writing a paper. The deadline will still come, and they’ll often “pull an all-nighter” or miss out on social activities to get it done. These first consequences are unavoidable and cannot be influenced. But the chain doesn’t stop there – there are other, linked, consequences that follow: missed relationships, lower grade, stress and panic, & harm to health from lack of sleep.

How many times have you been late to an appointment or event because you procrastinated getting ready to leave? Has this hurt a friendship or caused you embarrassment?

Consequences may not be the same for every person, and they may even look different to yourself from one occasion to the next, but there’s no denying the fact that there’s always a consequence to procrastination. Sometimes it manifests itself immediately, sometimes not for awhile, but it always comes. Unnecessary stress, missed deadlines, forgetting commitments, or hurt relationships are just a handful of the possible things that could go wrong with procrastinating.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

So we know that there will be consequences of putting things off, but most of us still do it. And probably far more often than we’d like.

Why? Why do we put off the things that we could technically do today? Why do we ignore the consequences when they’re staring us right in the face?

Even if you’re not a chronic procrastinator (like I am – I admit it!), nearly everyone does it at some point. And there are many possible reasons for it:

  • Fear: Fear is a paralyzing emotion.  It has the power to stop us from taking action. Maybe you fear failure, or that success would be limited and unrepeatable. Perhaps you fear what people will think, or going outside your comfort zone. Or it could be that you’re afraid of being vulnerable or breaking people’s perceived notion of who you are. Whatever it is, if fear is causing you to backtrack and forget the things you dream of doing, work to fix the problem head-on. It’s only holding you back from your amazing potential.
  • Importance: When we procrastinate, it’s very often because we don’t place enough psychological value on the importance of the task, project, or goal. Sure on the surface we may tout its importance, but deep down, we’re putting higher value on other things. My mom used to tell me when I’d forget about things like birthdays or events that “if it was important enough to remember, I would.” As a kid I rejected the possibility of this being true, but I’ve since learned the wisdom in this statement, and I think it works here too. If the task was important enough to you, you’d push yourself to completing it. Even unintentionally, everytime you turn on the TV when there are still items on your MIT list, you’re telling yourself that your “entertainment” is more important than your progression.
  • Need More Information:  Starting a new project or goal often requires additional knowledge or research. Maybe you want to repair the dryer yourself instead of calling it in, or perhaps you’d like to “someday” publish a book you’ve written. You probably can’t just “dive into” these things- you’ll have to gather some information beforehand. So schedule some time to collect the information you need and get started!
  • Higher Priorities: Life is busy.  We have jobs and commitments and activities and tasks and about a hundred things to get to everyday. Commonly we put off things that don’t need to get done today, in favor of other, more important or urgent tasks. This is ok- life is about establishing priorities and making choices. Just be sure that the things you’re doing each day are the most important use of your time.
  • Uncommitted to Task: Maybe you think it’s unfair that the task is assigned to you, or that someone else should be responsible for it. Perhaps you see it as a waste of time and that you’ve got “more important” things to worry about. These are signs of not being fully committed to the task. Truth is, it still needs it get done, and if you can’t delegate it, and you’re still responsible for the outcome, you’ll need to come up with a plan. Remember when you were in school and you were assigned a “partner” activity? Yeah, I hated those too. More times than not, I’d end up carrying more than my fair share of the weight because the consequences for an incomplete assignment were important for me to avoid. So weigh it out for yourself – what happens if you keep pushing it off? Is that worth ensuring that things are “fair?” Sometimes the answer is yes, but only you can make that decision.
  • Laziness: Everyone is faced with jobs in life that they simply just don’t want to do.  They’re either unpleasant, like having to clean dirty toilets, or they’re scary, like fixing the roof or preparing a Speech. Unfortunately, procrastination can reinforce itself. Once we avoid the task we don’t want to do and replace it with something “fun”, it becomes easier and easier to repeat. But how can we overcome this laziness? First thing is to accept it. In most cases, facing the truth about our weaknesses can help us overcome these bad habits and move into action where we otherwise may have failed.  Laziness is also another word for unmotivated. Finding a way to motivate yourself is the key to moving outside of your laziness.
  • Unfocused: Do you sit down to complete something and find yourself pulled into a thousand different directions? You open up Facebook or start checking your email. You go to take out the trash or start filing your paperwork from last week. These tasks, though many of them seem “productive” and important, are pulling you away from the task you’ve committed to. As you see things that need to be done, add them to a list, but don’t jump from one thing to another like a jackrabbit, because then nothing will get done! Remove distractions and work on increasing your mental focus to ensure that once you dedicate a block of time to a task, this is the only place your mind settles.
  • Overcomplicated: This is a major weakness of mine. Naturally, I seem to have the notion that “more is better” and seem to try to create a huge production out of every task on my list- or many of them at least. Working to simplify the things in your life can increase the number of things you accomplish and the results you see, exponentially. Remember: Keep it Simple!  

I hope this has opened your eyes a little to the reality of procrastination. It’s all around us, and often we’re doing it without even realizing. Try to be on the lookout for the times you might be procrastinating and ask yourself: Why?

Download the free printable below to evaluate the possible reasons you might be procrastinating the tasks on your list. Then check back for the second article in the series where I’ll cover tips to overcome procrastination.

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We procrastinate for different reasons. Discover why you may be putting things off and recognize when you’re procrastinating, and why. This is the first step to fixing the behaviors and making the best use of your time so that you can accomplish all the things you desire.

SPAM-Free & opt-out any time!

Why do you procrastinate? Is there something I missed from the list? Share your vices below!

Know Your Productivity Type

Knowing your productivity type can help you prioritize your work so you can achieve the greatest success each day.

Are you the type of task-driven person who cannot stand seeing unchecked boxes on your “to do” list? Or are you driven by deadlines and can’t seem to get started until a hard deadline is looming on your projects? Knowing your productivity type can help you prioritize your work so you can achieve the greatest success each day.

The Four Productivity Styles

In my study, I’ve seen three strong productivity styles that manifest when trying to get things finished. A major personality-test addict myself, I’ve found that knowing the tendencies produced by your personality can often help you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, which can, in turn, help you understand how best you work.

Below are the three Productivity styles I’ve seen, as well as some ideas on how to leverage your personality to achieve the greatest success.

One thing to note: you may find that you don’t fit into a single “type”, and that’s ok. I see a little of each within myself, but I do have a dominant style. One that I relate most to and that most of the characteristics ring true for me. If there are two or more that seem to fit you, pick the one that resonates the strongest, or use tips from both styles.

The Detailer

Detailers are the kings & queens of the to-do list. They have strong goals and know how to achieve the results they’re looking for. They’ll work tirelessly to develop a clear plan of action. They’re the tourist with the 7-page itinerary and walk with a map in their hand- if they haven’t memorized it first.

Strengths:

Detailers thrive on organization, lists and order. They are well aware of upcoming deadlines and will usually have a notebook within arm’s reach, because everything is always written down.

They’re natural “planners” and are spectacular at organizing all the small details that go into a plan. Detailers are goal-driven and always have their life priorities in mind when planning their time.

When a project needs to be planned or organized, the detailer is usually the one to figure it out. Detailers are great at figuring out how to do something, because they understand each individual and separate step.

Weaknesses:

Detailers tend to have a hard time looking at the “big picture” because they get so caught up in the small details. Sometimes perfection-oriented, they’ll tend to waste (er- spend) a lot of time ensuring everything “fits just right”.

They are not very spontaneous, and may struggle with creative thinking or working outside the box. They often have difficulty with flexibility and don’t take change well.

Detailers often prefer to work alone and may find it difficult to contribute in groups because they can struggle with making decisions without adequate time to process the details. They are critical thinkers who analyze each piece before making important decisions, and have a hard time skipping that process.

They can also be hyper-critical of their own thoughts and ideas, analyzing the validity and practicality before fully exploring the possibility.

Tips:

If you’re a detailer, if you stick to your to-do list, you’ll regularly see fantastic results. Dedicate the time necessary to writing out your tasks, goals, and priorities, and the output will be far greater than the time spent. You receive clarity in the process and this will be time well spent.

The Team Player

Team players, also very commonly spectacular leaders, are people that thrive in social situations. They’re outgoing and lively, ambitious and people-oriented. If they were a traveler, they’d much sooner ask every stranger they saw for directions and “secret locations” than read a guidebook or map.

Strengths:

Team Players love working in groups, managing people, and “persuading” others. They work best when surrounded by other people and a fair amount of noise or input.

They are commonly thoughtful and encouraging to others and excel in groups or partnerships. They often make fantastic leaders with their ability to delegate tasks and organize other people and information.

Team Players will quickly take control of a group situation and act as the team cheerleader by encouraging other team members and having a positive attitude about the project at hand.

Weaknesses:

Team Players will cringe at the idea of working alone- they need the personal interaction and thrive in a group setting.

Because of their high social awareness, Team Players can easily get distracted by conversations and can struggle to stay focused on individual tasks.

When not surrounded by people, Team Players will very often find themselves relying on social media for their personal interaction. In small doses this is fine, but if left unchecked, it can very often become a large distraction.

Tips

Listening to a good music playlist can help a Team Player stay focused. It provides the vocal input that they vividly need, while not providing an avenue for conversation or response. It can keep the Team Player engaged in the task in front of them instead of pulling them into all the different directions they’d so love to go.

Social interaction can energize a Team Player. They’ll draw inspiration and motivation from meeting with and talking to others. If you are a Team Player, consider spending some of your working time in a public place such as Starbucks or a Local Park in order to get the most done during the day.

Another great tactic to see positive results is to get others involved. Grab a team (kids, spouse, friends, church group) and as much as you can, delegate every task you don’t need to do yourself. Working alongside others turns the most menial task into a group activity, which is incredibly empowering for a Team Player.

The Visionary

The visionary is a creative soul. They’re motivated by creating, developing their ideas and finding new ways to approach a situation. They are spontaneous and impulsive. When traveling, a visionary will set off for a with no set plan and the attitude of “I’ll figure it out when I’ll get there.”

Strengths & Weaknesses:

A visionary will often be juggling multiple projects at any given time. They will commonly have a hard time keeping interest on only one task at a time, preferring to let their creative mind jump between several things to keep a fresh look on each project.

Visualizers are creative thinkers who welcome change. They are flexible and have no problem adjusting when problems arise.

Visualizers are great at seeing the big picture, and tend to focus on the end result as opposed to the smaller tasks which lead to that end result. If they can work collaboratively with a Detailer, these two can be an unstoppable team, but doing so can prove challenging as they have very different approaches to organizing and task management.

Their workspace (and mind) are seen as cluttered and unorganized, and to someone like a Detailer this can be seen as a major weakness. To the Visionary, it’s a sign of a creative space- a place where “the magic happens”, so to speak. They know what is in each of their “piles” on their desk, and can still find anything they need.

While working with others, Visionaries can let their imaginations run away with them when trying to plan out a project. They’ll have many ideas that the Team Player and Detailers can help formulating into a plan.

Weaknesses:

Though visionaries have a great amount of energy and their creative minds are constantly coming up with new ideas, their fluid nature tends to leave them with a difficulty completing the tasks and projects they start.  

Tips

For Visionaries working alone, batching tasks (doing all repeated tasks at the same time each week) can help balance between keeping a fresh eye and true productivity. Each occurrence will be different enough to still be interesting to the Visionary, but also similar and help establish an efficient workflow.

Next Steps:

The better you understand your productivity type, the more tools you can utilize to maximize your potential and find success in your goals and life desires.

Once you figure out how – and when – you work best, you will be an unstoppable force. You’ll know exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to approach it. You’ll fly through your task list and feel accomplished and empowered!

So what’s your Productivity Style? Download the printable below to take the assessment, then comment below: Is it accurate? Does it give you any ideas on how to leverage your style to get the most done?

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Stephen Covey’s 2×2 Time Management Matrix

Overwhelmed? Not sure what needs to get done first? Use a TM Matrix will help you evaluate your tasks based on priorities so you can choose the best thing.

It’s easy to get bogged down with your growing task list when it seems you’re adding more than you’re accomplishing. As much as it’s difficult for me to admit, I continually have to remind myself that I simply cannot do everything every day. Sometimes, I just have to prioritize the most important tasks and know I’ve done my best. But how do we know which tasks are the most important? Productivity guru Stephen Covey, in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” explained a system to organize your tasks based on two criteria: urgency and importance. Working together, these two things create a grid where you can judge all incoming tasks to determine your next best step. It’s called the “Time Management Matrix”. It works like this: The top two sections are categorized in urgency, the bottom two in importance. Overwhelmed? Not sure what needs to get done first? Use a TM Matrix will help you evaluate your tasks based on priorities so you can choose the best thing.

URGENCY & IMPORTANCE

When you want to evaluate your tasks, you need to consider each of these for each task.   Urgency: Does the task have a deadline, or is it time sensitive? Something like “buy a wedding gift for Sarah” needs to be done by next Saturday, so you can bring it with you when you attend. But “clean out my closet”, though it may be very needed, doesn’t have to be done by a specific time. Importance: Does it really matter if you get this thing done or not? Or is it just a “want to” kind of task? In the above examples, let’s say that you’re not super close to Sarah (she’s a work colleague’s daughter) and if you don’t bring a gift, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. You still want to do it, but the importance factor has then gone down. And yet, “clean out my closet”, though not deadline driven, is still important because half of the clothes you own don’t fit anymore or are out of season- you need to purge some and store others away. This task has a higher importance level, but lacks urgency.

THE QUADRANTS

After determining the urgency & importance of each of your items, you combine your results to place each task in one of the four quadrants. Quadrant 1: Urgent & Important. These are tasks that are top priority. They include tasks that are high in both urgency & importance. Let’s say your son’s field trip permission slip is due on Friday- if you don’t get it in, he can’t go. Important, right? And the deadline is in 3 days- urgent? Definitely! This tells you that you need to do this task ASAP. Quadrant 2: Not Urgent & Important. These tasks are second priority. (See the pattern?) Cleaning out your closet goes here. Or spending time with family- important because it aligns with your life priorities and goals, but doesn’t need to be done by a specific time. Worst case scenario- if your day is filled up with all #1s, these #2s can usually be postponed to a later time. Overwhelmed? Not sure what needs to get done first? Use a TM Matrix will help you evaluate your tasks based on priorities so you can choose the best thing. Quadrant 3: Urgent & Not Important. Third in priority- these tasks only get completed after you’ve completed, or scheduled, quadrants 1 & 2. Because they’re not important, you have to decide if the time they’ll take to complete are worth the benefits of completing the task. (In financial terms, this is called “return on investment.” I like thinking of my tasks like that.) Often you’ll find you can eliminate some of these items, or delegate them to others. Quadrant 4: Not Urgent & Not Important: These tasks are often the ones we put there because we want to. Things like watching our favorite show on Netflix, or surfing Facebook. They’re things that we need to plan a little time for (in the interest of self-care & unwinding), but need to keep under control. Quadrant 4 is, you guessed it, lowest priority.

WHY THIS IS HELPFUL

For me, it’s really nice to visually see my tasks organized by priority, especially when I start to feel overwhelmed with so many of them. Often I find tasks that I think are important, but by forcing myself to place each task in a quadrant, I realize I can cut many of them out, simplifying my day. I have a huge problem with over-planning my time, but using this method of priority really helps me get a handle on what I really do have time to accomplish. I also really like how this forces me to triage my tasks before I add them to my list- I have to literally sit and evaluate each task before I write it down… to ensure I am placing it in the proper quadrant… no more doing #3s before all else! Note: I do combine this with a good “Brain Dump” to ensure all my thoughts are written down beforehand- that way I don’t forget anything while I’m prioritizing.

HOW TO PLAN YOUR TIME

Knowing that quadrant 1 items are top priority, you can probably guess that they really should be completed or planned first. That’s a no brainer. But do the rest fall exactly in line? (#2s, #3s and then #4s?) Well, not exactly. It’s important to create balance in your life, which you can do well, using this system. When planning your time, after you’ve planned all urgent & important matters, you want to sprinkle in a mixture of both 2s & 3s. After deciding to plan or eliminate the 3s, if you are going to do them, since they have deadlines, get them on the list. Since they’re lower priority, if they don’t end up happening exactly the way you want, you can feel guiltless about missing them. But if you’re anything like me, they definitely won’t happen if they’re not even on the list (and obviously before the deadline.)   So, to illustrate, I’m going to put the permission slip on my calendar first, since it’s due in 3 days and has high importance. Next, I’m going to plan to clean my closet on Saturday morning, since it I feel strongly it’s important for me right now. I’m going to plan on picking up Sarah’s wedding gift on Thursday evening after work (since I get off early that night), but if something happens, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m also going to write in to watch a couple episodes of my favorite show this week- one on Wednesday night and one Sunday afternoon.   Don’t underestimate the importance of carving out some time for those 4s- guilty pleasures that you can use as rewards for a productive day, or as a tool to help you unwind from the stressful ones. Some call these “distractions” and urge you to avoid them- I know it’s important to let yourself indulge a little. Just be careful… only you know how much time is left in your schedule. Don’t waste it. I hope this has helped you see just how beneficial this can be to help you organize your growing task list… be sure to be honest with yourself when judging urgency and importance. If it helps you meet or progress you in your life goals, it’s probably important. And is each task actually as urgent as it seems? Try to eliminate as many things as possible… simplifying your list can help you exponentially in the long run.

Don’t forget to download the FREE printable below to organize and prioritize your own tasks!

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NEXT STEPS:

Looking for a simpler version of this process? There’s an easy one included in my FREE course “Transform the Overwhelm: 7 Days to Peaceful Productivity”which you can sign up for now. Every day for a week you’ll receive detailed instructions, exercises, and support from me as you navigate your own list and work to transform those feelings of overwhelm into true productivity.