Where Our Big Ideas Go to Die. Part 1 of 2: The Key to Why We Don’t Get Things Done.

Posted April 26, 2010

PART 1 OF 2

For anyone out there who, like me, constantly wonders why it takes so long to accomplish those big business-changing ideas, this grid is the key to understanding what’s getting in your way.  Let me explain.

Task Quadrants

Every year I’d go to at least 2 or 3 major industry conferences, the kind where I get on a plane, stay at a hotel, and immerse myself in new ideas.  These were my moments of inspiration & creativity, where I could get away from the day-to-day grind, get away from the clients, employees and vendors, and really clear my head to be open to new ideas.

I’d get on the plane home having figured so many things out to fix my event business, learned new ideas to pitch to clients, etc.  It was like when you returned from Club Med (do people still go there?) or some other really fun resort; you come back a changed person.  You’re going to exercise, eat right, whatever.  The clouds parted and you saw the light.

If you’re like me, those moments of clarity and inspiration would last, oh, maybe three days.  Then the notes, brochures and brainstorms go into “that place” where new ideas go to die.   For some people it’s a drawer that never sees the light of day.  For me, it was a round wicker basket I would place right in front of my desk so I could have daily reminders of my perpetual under-achievement.

These ideas all had two things in common: they were all things that would really help my business, and they were all things without any kind of deadline.  Eventually I got so frustrated that a friend recommended a great book called, “First Things First”, by Stephen R. Covey, who also wrote the more popular “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  I’ll save you the trouble of reading it and share what to me was the most compelling nugget of wisdom: the grid at the top of this post.

The idea is to take all your tasks and put each one in one of these 4 boxes.  Easy enough, right?  The hard part comes next, when you have to discipline yourself to spend your time in the following order of priorities: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Everyone can agree on what goes into box #1: something very important and very time sensitive.  Everyone can also agree on box #4: utter wastes of time that are neither important nor urgent.

Where most people get tripped up, however, is boxes 2 and 3.  Theoretically, you should do your box #2 task before box #3, but we usually don’t.  Why?  Because box #3 items are constantly in your face, and are deadline-driven.  They’re urgent, but not necessarily important.  E-mails are a major culprit.  We all get bombarded with e-mails that are not mission-critical, but where we feel compelled to respond in some timely fashion.

By contrast, getting your website redesigned, which is of HUGE importance to your business, has no deadline.  It’s a typical box #2 item.  Meeting with your accountant, developing new leads, properly training your new assistant (so she can start taking box #3 items off your plate); these are all the things that get put on the back-burner, but shouldn’t.

How do you do all that?  In my next post I’ll review two strategies I’ve seen people use successfully.

CHECK BACK IN MY NEXT POST FOR PART 2.

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  1. Howard
    Cheryl
    April 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm Permalink

    so true. can’t wait to read your next post on the solutions.