“It doesn’t matter if you want to be an artist or an engineer or a scientist – if you’re not organized, you’re not going to get anything done.” -Overheard at Tokyo Academics
Ever have a busy day but end up not accomplishing anything? Ever feel like you’re doing a lot of work but not really getting any closer to your goals? Quite a few parents and students have asked about this, so to get everyone else in the loop, I’m writing about a tool we use at Tokyo Academics to focus on the most important things, and in the right priority.
A. Write all your tasks down
Your brain constantly reminds you about the things you have to do (“rehearsal loops”). This takes energy and brainpower. Transfer this mental load onto paper, and you stop having to keep 50 things in your mind distracting you while you’re trying to focus on accomplishing something.
B. Prioritize your tasks
Listing the tasks in order of importance already helps quite a bit. Even better than listing things in importance, is evaluating them by urgency (how soon you have to do them). Many of us at TA use a tool to do just that. The Eisenhower matrix helps us by listing our tasks into four quadrants:
- Important / Unimportant: The key test here is whether you have to do them or not. Is anyone counting on you to do this? Will the completion of this impact your goals? If not, it might be unimportant.
- Urgent / not-urgent: Does a task require you to think about it now? Or can it wait until tomorrow? Or next week? What would be the negative impact of delaying this task?
- Important, urgent: Complete homework due the next day, practice my instrument for tomorrow’s concert
- Important, not-urgent: Write outline for a term paper, work on a medium term project, study for a test (like the SAT), jog a few miles
- Unimportant, urgent: Reply to friends’ invitations or phone calls, view Snapchats,
- Unimportant, not-urgent: Watch YouTube, get lost on the internet, play League of Legends
Do tasks based on the order of the quadrants: 1, then 2, maybe 3, but almost never 4
- Important, urgent and non-urgent: Always focus on the Important tasks, and do them in the order you listed (urgent, then not-urgent).
- Unimportant, urgent tasks: If they really need to get done now, can someone else do them? Or if they’re not that important, are they really urgent? Also, if you put your smartphone away, you might have less of these tasks to do (you’ll see less distractions coming in).
- Unimportant, not-urgent: Why are you thinking of these? Will anyone ever care if they get done? Double check this list, but maybe you should ignore all of these.
Now that you have written everything down, and are only working on those tasks which are important, you’ll find that you might a) actually finish the things that matter, and possibly b) have a lot more free time to either relax, create, and do meaningful work. Ultimately, we trust you’ll find (as we have) that much of what takes up your time and your cognitive capacity is unimportant noise.
Edit: Below, we have an example of this chart filled out by one of our very own students.