Creative Leadership

Stop Spending So Much Time on Other People’s Priorities

Write this down:  “If you’re spending your day sending and receiving email messages, then you’re spending your day responding to other people’s priorities.”  Rinse and repeat. What does your typical day look like? Spending all day in your email inbox? Or spending the day working on the projects that matter to you?  Sure, email is still a vital communications tool, but our problem is that we get stuck in it. As a result, we end up responding to others, instead of acting on the things that are important to us.

If you get stuck in your inbox, here’s some recommendations:

1) With email – you don’t have to respond to everybody. Immediately delete the cat videos, the lame poems, and endless coupons. Don’t necessarily respond if you were only “cc’d” on the email. And unless it’s specifically work related, don’t necessarily respond if you didn’t ask for the email to begin with.

2) Tap into resources that obsess over productivity like David Allen’s books or the guys over at Asian Efficiency. They may be overkill, but they’ve got some great tips, techniques, and insight on making your goals happen.

3) Invest in a good task manager or to-do list. There are some great ones that operate online or offline. My two favorites are OmniFocus and Things. I’ve used both, but I like Things better because it’s versatile but simple. A simple and free one is Wunderlist.  I also recommend my PRINT planner called “The Unique Planner for Creative Professionals.”

4) Once your task manager is in place, re-think your email. Delete emails that are low priority or don’t matter, then process the rest. Respond to the ones that need an immediate response, delay or delegate others, and when you receive emails that represent a task, move them to your task manager.

From that point on, start focusing on your task list instead of your email inbox.  After all – the task list is the list of YOUR priorities, and that’s what you need to accomplish to reach your goals.

As much as possible, leave other people’s priorities to them…

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  1. In response to a would-be writer that asked Mark Twain how one knew he was meant to be a writer, to which Twain replied; “First write for two years without expecting anyone to pay you for it. If, after two years no one has offered to pay you to write, you were probably meant for chopping wood.”

  2. The problem I have with task lists is that I often have too many tasks to accomplish, so I never complete them and eventually stop using the list.
    The problem is not the software.
    I have tried using different software, and I have tried using paper, I even used a whiteboard for some time.
    What are your suggestions?

    1. Great question Osayi. I think the answer is to be ruthless about what you can actually accomplish. I’m a big believer in deleting tasks. You can’t do everything, so we need to stop thinking we can. Be tough. It’s better to accomplish a few things, than give up on a lot of things… It’s the message of my book “One Big Thing.” Better to be extraordinary at one big thing than average at a lot of things….

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