Here’s a little reality check for you. In the end, the very lowest priority tasks will probably never get done.
I know that’s startling.
The lowest priority tasks will never get done. And, to be honest, at some point you will die with work undone. You will. I don’t want to be morbid, but it’s true.
When I say this in live presentations, someone always asks if this is the motivational part of the presentation. But we all know that people who are irreplaceable leave or die every day. Steve Jobs died. Apple is more successful today, and more profitable than they’ve ever been. Bill Gates left Microsoft (he didn’t die), and they’re more profitable today than they’ve ever been.
It’s just a fact: You will have lots of things that are low priority that you will never get to. That’s not a bad thing, and you’re not an evil person for accepting that that’s the truth. One reason that many people suck at goal-setting is that they are unwilling to assign any tasks to the lowest priority or to admit that items in the lowest priority category will never get done.
It’s okay to have zero guilt about the fact that the lowest priority things in your life will never get done.
The important question is: How do you make sure that the most important things DO get done? Luckily, that’s easy: Work on the highest priority things first.
Be aware of the downside to this: It will piss off people who think that they should be able to interrupt you all the time. A handful actually think they have that right. Most people simply think it’s rude for you to ignore them. But if you’re working on the single most important thing you have to do, then you should and must ignore them!
If you’ve followed me for long, you know that I never answer my phone. Well, 99% of the time. Some people get really angry about this. They call. They even leave voicemails (I stopped checking voicemail). They text and ask me to answer my phone!
Eventually, they either give up or email me and schedule a time to connect by phone. Miraculously, that works. You see, random phone calls are never, ever the single most important thing I have to pay attention to in my life or my business.
Here’s a very interesting irony about this rule: The single most important person in my life is, and has been for almost thirty years, my daughter. And guess what? I never answer the phone when she calls unless I happen to have it in my hand and be looking at the screen when she calls. And sometimes even then I don’t answer it.
The irony is, she doesn’t care. It doesn’t bother her the least little bit. She knows she’s important to me, and that I will communicate with her. Whenever she needs me, I’m there. So she’s surprised when I do answer the phone.
And she’s the same way. If I call her, I fully expect to leave a message. I never expect her to answer the phone. She’s got a job and a life. And she’s probably in the middle of something when I call. (She also turns off her ringer or turns off her phone altogether, just like her old man.)
Telephone etiquette aside, people also want to interrupt you at meetings, in your office, or just walking down the hallway. Idle chit-chat is one thing. But if you are doing something important, then you should not allow interruptions. And that will irritate people.
Very often, I have to remind my employees that I am ignoring them, but they should not be offended. I want them to work from highest to lowest priority, and I do the same. That means that I often have something higher priority than whatever they’re emailing about.
None of them has nothing to do, so they can simply move to the next priority on their list until I get back to them. And I have strategies in place to catch up with everyone and address all the questions. It takes work, and a dedication to the priority process. But in the long run, it is far more efficient than working on the most recent thing that interrupted you just because it’s the most recent thing that interrupted you!
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