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Your business tip of the month: Remove the stress from your to-do list

What connects an American President, a piece of paper and your peace of mind?

Ever look at your to-do list and don't know where to start?


This month's business tip shows you a different approach that will reduce the time and hassle of deciding where to begin - so that you'll never be afraid of your to-do list again.


You're still working from the same to-do list, it's just that the tasks are now split into four separate sections. This format is known as the Eisenhower Matrix and it's named after its originator - the 34th American President Dwight Eisenhower.


If you don't normally write your to-do list down, this could be a great way to start. Keeping track of your tasks will be easy and you don't need to worry yourself with technology, or words like "app", "syncing" or "cloud".


Now, are you ready to run your business the way a president ran his country? All you need is a pen and a piece of paper.


Step 1


Draw a vertical line and a horizontal line through the middle, so that a "+" fills the paper.


Draw your to-do list


Step 2


Label the boxes:


  • Top-right - 1 - Important, urgent

  • Top-left - 2 - Important, non-urgent

  • Bottom-right - 3 - non-important, urgent

  • Bottom-left - 4 - non-important, non-urgent


Title your to-do list


Step 3


Write your to-do list - add tasks to boxes that offer the most accurate description for each item's importance and urgency.


  • To decide how important a task is, consider what impact it will have on your business. The bigger the impact (on number of customers, amount of revenue or profit - for instance), the more important the task is.

  • When considering how urgent a task is, ask yourself, "if this isn't completed, does it cause a big problem or a small one?" Use the size of the problem - and its deadline - as a guide to how much urgency should be placed on your task.


Ultimately, you'll be plotting your to-do list based on what your 'gut' feels about each of these scenarios. Here's a rough guide to what kind of tasks might go in each box:


Top-right - 1 - Important, urgent


This is the 'one thing you can't put off', such as paying your employees' wages on pay day or sending customer orders.


Top-left - 2 - Important, non-urgent


This is the ‘other stuff you should do today’ such as sending invoices to suppliers or starting a redesign of your website.


Bottom-right - 3 - Non-important, urgent


These tasks need to be done sooner rather than later - but they won't bring your business to a standstill if they aren't completed. For instance, staff training has urgency because your employees may need to improve their skills, but if the training is postponed you know it won't be a big problem because your business has already coped without this.


Bottom-left - 4 - Non-important, non-urgent


These are the 'wouldn't it be nice if...' ideas you have. For instance, renaming a meeting room could sit in this box as the idea isn't immediately important or urgent. It could be that items in this box show you that you don’t need to perform the task at all – the Eisenhower Matrix is as much a brain exercise as it is an organisation tool.


Add your to-do list


Step 4


Update and rewrite as you go along. After all, priorities change.


Let's say Google makes a change to its search algorithm so that websites that don't include the colour pink on their homepage will appear lower in search results*. If your website didn't have any pink on it – and ‘Search Engine Marketing’ is important to your business –you'd be inclined to change website redesign to 'Important urgent'. This is because it will suddenly become a task that could have damaging effects to your business if you don’t complete it, because you won't disappear from customer web searches you depend upon.


Update your to-do list


Pretty soon, you'll find that your to-do list is working for you. In fact, you'll know it's working for you when it looks something like this:


A well used to-do list


Then, whenever you need a clean-up, just grab a new piece of paper and move all of your outstanding tasks across.


A new to-do list


*Although Google does occasionally make changes to its search algorithm, pink-less websites isn't something they currently check or rank against.


Image: Courtesy of John Schultz on Flickr.