Prioritisation part II – Productivity through Key Areas
Prioritisation. Goal achievement. Time management. This article talks about how to prioritise in order to focus and achieve your goals. Following on from our last article about the Eisenhower Matrix, this shows you how you can organise all of your tasks and activities to achieve an overview and get things done.
This is the fourth article in our 2015 feature series about productivity. In the first article, we gave an overview of the key topics we would be covering over the course of the series. In the second article we looked at the importance of goal setting, and in the third article we delved deeper into the practicalities of prioritisation to understand what we should be focusing our resources (principally time) on. In this article, we continue with the theme of prioritisation and look at how you can break down your goals into manageable tasks and activities to perform along the way.
This week we give you a very practical approach to dealing with all of the tasks and activities, which make up your daily professional and personal lives. It is based around the “Key Area” concept developed by Claus Møller in the Time Manager® results tool in 1975. The Time Manager is, in our opinion, one of the most effective tools ever created for both setting goals and prioritising your tasks and activities to achieve your goals.
Components of Key Areas
Briefly told, Key Areas are the main areas within which you work – or the ones you need to attend to more than once in order to complete. This means your weekly shop is not a Key Area. Key Areas are the main areas of tasks on which you should concentrate to achieve your goals – professionally or privately.
Each key area can be broken down into a number of Tasks. Tasks are a headline description of what needs to be done in order to achieve a certain result. Sometimes tasks can be complex – or consist of several components, which need to be undertaken in order to complete the task. These sub-components are called Activities.
Now, let’s look at these three topics in more detail:
By determining (and revising) your Key Areas you gain perspective in your life – and on how you spend your time. This allows you to make choices about what matters to you in life. You can decide how much time you want to spend on each Key Area and this allows you to plan your time better.
The Key Areas are the main areas you can divide your private and work life into. The areas in which you need to focus your time and energy in order to achieve your goals.
Key Areas are headlines for categories of tasks.
Research undertaken by Time Manager International shows that most people are capable of describing all aspects of their work as well as their personal life within a maximum of 10 categories. Furthermore, it is almost impossible for the human brain to keep track of much more than this – and it’s much easier for you to keep on top of your life if you don’t have more than 9 or 10 Key Areas.
There are two different ways of determining your key areas:
Goal-based Key Area Definition
Start by looking at the overall goals for your job – and what YOU wish to achieve. Now ask yourself the following questions: “What goals do I need to achieve?” and “what is required of me?”
Following on from this you can start to determine which main focus areas – your Key Areas – you need to focus your time and efforts on in order to achieve your goals.
Activity-based Key Area Definition
At the other end of the spectrum, you can start by looking at what you are actually spending your time on, i.e. your Activities. Ask yourself the following questions: “How do I spend my time?”, “which tasks do I have?”, “which tasks would I like to have?”, and “which Activities are the sub-components of these tasks?”
List all of the tasks and activities and group them in a logical manner. Create a headline for each group, thereby making each group a Key Area.
NB! Note on revising your Key Areas
You will find that your Key Areas often stay the same for a prolonged period of time, but as the content of your personal and work life change (e.g. if you have a baby or start a new job) you will need to make alterations to your Key Areas. You should aim to review your Key Areas at least once a year.
Within each Key Area there are a number of Tasks, which need to be undertaken. Tasks form the basis for your decisions about:
- What you should be doing,
- When you should be doing something,
- How you can do something, and
- The things you should not do yourself
It can all be summed up quite easily:
The purpose of Tasks is to build a bridge between your goals and how you spend your time.
Making Tasks Actionable
If you describe your Tasks clearly, you increase the likelihood of getting them done. This means you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- What needs to get done?
- What is the end result I am trying to achieve?
- Who should get the Task done?
- When does the Task need to get done by?
You can define your Tasks in general terms or more specifically according to your personal needs, temperament and level of ambition.
Keep in Mind…
Some Tasks are easy to define and very concrete (e.g. improve my fitness test results by 20% no later than October 1st), whereas others can be harder to define and much more abstract (e.g. improving relations with your children), making them harder to describe and measure. In the latter case you can describe the actions you need to take and by when you would like to see improvements.
Some Tasks are on-going. They will stay on your Task list as long as your Key Areas stay the same (e.g. budgeting, financial reporting, employee management, training & development etc.) Other Tasks can take on a more dynamic nature – or be described as being on an ad hoc basis. This could be the planning of an event or running a marketing campaign for Christmas. These Tasks are finished once certain Activities have been completed.
Task Definition in Practice
If you follow these four steps – and keep in mind the advice from our article on goal setting – you will already have made a quantum leap forward compared to most people when it comes to planning.
This, in the end, will translate into a much more productive mindset where you can set your goals, prioritise the tasks needed to achieve those goals, allocate the required resources and follow through to achieve them!
1. What Needs to Get Done?
Describe the Task specifically. Use verbs like increase, reduce, complete, start, improve, supply etc. to describe your specific intention.
2. What Result?
Define the change you want to achieve. Make the result measurable. To the greatest extent, use numbers, currency, percentages, mass, standards, comparisons or another standard of measurement to define it.
3. Who is Responsible?
Determine whether it is a Task you should complete alone, or with others – or to whom you wish to delegate the task.
4. When is it Done?
Set a deadline for the Task. Force yourself to complete it within a given time frame. A Task without a deadline tends to get pushed ahead of you.
Once you have defined the Tasks for each Key Area, you will need to break the Tasks down into their constituent components – the Activities which you need to undertake in order to complete the Tasks. You may need to describe these in more or less detail depending on the type and size of the Task.
In order to illustrate this, I have chosen one of my personal Key Areas, which is “Marketing”. Under that Key Area, I have a Task called “Planning of June Exhibition” as we’re exhibiting at the HR Software Show (do come by and see us at stand H112 :-)) again this year. If you have planned a trade show before you will know that there are a myriad of activities to be undertaken. Some of mine include:
- Finalise copy for marketing collateral
- Approve designs for marketing collateral
- Approve draft print for collateral
- Develop staff roster for show
- Book transportation to and from show
And the list goes on…
Armed with this knowledge you can now start trying to organise your tasks and prioritise the ones you need to focus on in relation to Box 2 of the Eisenhower Matrix from the previous article in this series.
Over the course of the next couple of articles, I will give you some further tools to really kickstart your productivity and give you a huge boost. Specfically, I will give you a technique for how to deal with large and complex tasks – and show you how to achieve big and ambitious goals. I will also show you how you can set your diary on fire and really start achieving something by linking your Tasks and Goals to how you are spending your time – and how you should be spending it!
A large part of this article is based on the Time Manager® user manual, “The Key to Personal Effectiveness”. The author has been allowed to give detail on the principles as described by the original inventor, Claus Møller, for which we are grateful.