Your Most Important Tasks
There's a quote I love from Annie Dillard from her book "The Writing Life", and you might have heard of it, and she said that "How we spend our days, is, of course, "how we spend our lives." And this is why rules like the rule of three are so important, is where, they're where the rubber meets the road. This is where we act towards our goals. It's great to have these grand goals, these yearly intentions that we want to meet, but it's on a daily basis that we act toward them. And this is something essential to keep in mind that this intention behind our actions is like the wood behind an arrow. So this rule works well on a daily basis and on a weekly basis even too. But what about deciding what's important on a general basis? That leads to the second idea that I want to share with you. And it's about defining the most important tasks in the work that you do. You might have heard of the 80/20 principle before, where 80% of our results come from 20% of our actions. And it translates to ot...
her domains too, like 80% of our sales come from 20% of our customers. 80% of our complaints come from 20% of our customers. And seeing this pattern over the course of this 90/20 experiment, it got me thinking, okay if some tasks are disproportionately important on a daily basis, on a weekly basis what about on a general basis? And so I did something that's very simple and I just made a list of everything that I did over the course of a typical month. And there are quite a few things, as I quickly found, but after that point I asked myself something similar to the rule of three. You know, if I can only do one thing on this list, day in, day out, every single day, which one adds the most value and allows me to accomplish the most? That's my most important tasks. And, in my case, it's writing books and blog articles because that's how I get to think through and communicate these productivity ideas to the world. Then I asked, okay, what about number two? You know, and it turned out it was research. That's where I uncovered new ideas and was able to connect those ideas to other ideas that I discovered and thoughts that I had and experiments I conducted and interviews I conducted to form a complete picture of what productivity was about. And third, was speaking because that's how I got to share these ideas with the world. And I found that after this point, after about three tasks, my marginal productivity fell off a cliff. In other words, it's the 80/20 principle in action. 80 to 90% of the results that I achieved during the project and beyond, came from these three tasks. Everything else either supported my work or was unnecessary to do. In other words, whether it's on a daily basis or a weekly basis or in general, only a few things matter. Right? You might see this in your own work where you can divide the important tasks in your work from the more trivial elements of your work. Important tasks like planning out your week. Are you taking that step back and being thoughtful about what do I wanna achieve here? Finding partners to collaborate with. Investing in your learning by taking courses on creative live and reading books. Right? Provided it's a helpful course and a helpful book, you'll get that time back and then some. It's a high leverage thing to do. Marketing your work might be a high leverage thing for you to do. Saying no to busywork that is unnecessary. Automating tasks that are repetitive, if you have budgeting work flows, or billing clients, whatever it might be, by automating those things and taking a step back, maybe hiring a programmer for a day, you might be able to save yourself an infinite amount of time over the course of your career. But then there are the more trivial things, the kind of 80% of tasks. The things that expand to fit how much time we have available and park in this slot. Things like pointless meetings that we agree to. Routine conference calls. One of the most productive things we can do if you have conference calls that you hop into, is go through your calendar and flag the ones that you want to get out of. And you might have to think a little bit and be strategic about how you maneuver your way out of them, but you can save yourself a multiple of time for every minute you spent on that, too. Checking social media repeatedly, even if social media is part of the work that you do, Repeatedly, maybe not. Checking email repeatedly. News websites, and participating in sort of chit chat that doesn't build relationships. Not everything is created equal when it comes to our work. But, the weird part about talking about this stuff is a lot of it's common sense, right? Like, of course, not all tasks in our work are created equal. Of course, I accomplish more writing a report than I do watching Netflix. But, the thing is that on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, that this common sense isn't necessarily common action. Right, we need to act on what we know on a daily basis and that leads to the next activity that I have planned for you. (laughs) It's the next two minute challenge. And it is, on the next page, to make a list of everything you're responsible for over the course of a given month. Don't leave anything out. And we'll get the timer going behind me. Three, two, one and go. So I promise I'm only gonna do this once over the course of this. I keep saying over the course of this course, but over the span of this session. I have another two minute challenge for you, and that is to pick your most valuable task on that list. Ask yourself, if you could only do one thing day in, day out. Let's start the timer. Day in and day out every single day, which one would allow you to accomplish the most? Which one moves your work forward the most? Which one allows you to do the most meaningful work and contribute to the world? And, go. There's, you know, this is one of the challenges that I have over the span of this course that allow you to have this higher level perspective of the work that you do. Because, you know, shutting off this auto pilot mode it's impossible to do when we don't take a step back. And I think you'll find that that's a common theme here, is that most of these involve taking a step back from what you do over the course of a given day, over the course of a given month, what you're procrastinating on, your life in general, how much energy you have, how distracted you are. We'll cover all of those things in turn. We've got one minute. And if you think of any more things you do over the course of the month, add those to the list, too. If you don't have space on that list, you know, there's margins. That's what margins are for.
I think it's important to note that the two minute timer is sort of strategic here, right? You don't want to take too much time dwelling on all these answers. It should be something that comes, like the first thing that comes to your mind, right?
Yeah, exactly. And part of the, I debated doing this session without any activities at all, but a lot of it is to get started on something, because, you know we're talking about procrastination next, so much of the resistance we have to doing some things, it's stacked at the beginning of us doing the task. And so once we get over, you know it takes us six months to build up the really courage to clean out our garage, or a closet, but once we do it for a minute, we can keep going for hours. And these things are the same way. And this is were the value is, I think, in actually moving the work forward is having this perspective. Two, one and. Beep beep beep, beep beep beep. So does anybody have any insights that they wanna share with us really quickly? For what's just important, just getting these things out of your mind and onto the page.
[Female audience member] Yeah, for me, cause I work in marketing, so its very similar to what you've described that is important for you. So doing research, doing content marketing for my business and for my clients, because that brings most results, and then I've identified as a side line, some areas that could be outsourced.
That I'm unnecessarily doing just because I enjoy doing it, but not necessarily because they're productive for me.
Yeah precisely, and it's like just as it's so essential to look at the three important things, really question everything that's left. You know, because, and this is something that I find. I coach many executives for becoming more productive and speak to a lot of different audiences, and when I ask people to do this, usually their marginal productivity falls off a cliff. After the first three, sometimes even two, or four activities they do over the course of the given month. And so it's worth questioning the ones that are left. They probably support your work. Maybe you can delegate them. Maybe you, you know, you probably can't eliminate too many, I found in practice, but you can probably delegate quite a few of them. Maybe you can hire a virtual assistant for others. Maybe you could find ways to minimize how much time you spend on them, and so that's just as essential as defining what's most productive in the first place. It's incredible, isn't it? To have this high level perspective, and that's such a simple activity, but sometimes the best advise is simple.