Getting to the Vital Few

I participated in my first time management workshop in June or July of 1982.  I don’t remember the name of the presenter, but I do remember the name of the workshop – Time Power – and it was a session on using a pocket Daytimer to plan your priorities.  Even then it wasn’t really about time management, but about focusing on what was important and not wasting your efforts on urgent trivialities.

I’ve never been able to find a way to stretch out the day or make more than 24 hours.  I mean you could do a few little tricks to “multi-task” and combine some activities like brushing your teeth in the shower or shaving your face in the shower, but really, all I can focus on is one thing at a time.  If I am “multi-tasking” that means I’m not focused on either of the things I am attempting to do at the same time.  Half-assed is half-assed, not matter what you call it and most of us try to rationalize and say that we can.


So, with that little diatribe out of the way, what then could we do?   As I mentioned above, that first personal management workshop I attended as a 19 year old was called Time Power and was based on this book:

time power.jpeg

I have a copy of it and I read it quite often.   It was focused around using the Daytimer planner and has a wonderful approach to continuity in planning.   I’ve moved on from the pre-printed planner by this point in life and am using a bullet journal to accomplish the same thing in a more free-form way.

But it all comes down to identifying what is important and then focusing my energy on getting to that.   At age 55 I don’t seem to be as good at this as I used to be, so I’m trying to rebuild my focus on this.   The gray matter between the ears doesn’t seem as nimble as it used to be and I recognize that I need to WRITE THINGS DOWN in order to remember.  I still have a mind like a steel trap, but it is rusty and much smaller now, not the old shiny bear trap it used to be, more like a little rusty mosquito trap.  It doesn’t catch as much or as quickly and so I have to give it a little help!!

I’m not going to write today about identifying long range or intermediate goals.  Instead I want to focus on what we do on a daily basis.  Certainly, any sort of daily task list ought to be referring to long range and intermediate goals, but those are BIG and often take many steps to get there. Let’t take a quick look at what Hobb’s suggests you do to build and then prioritize your daily task list.

Hobb’s lists 7 questions for identifying your tasks for the day and then 5 additional questions to prioritize your list.   I am liberally adapting these questions for space.  He devotes several pages in his book for them, I’ll try to do it in a shorter list.  He recommends you ask these questions as you build your daily list of tasks:

  1. Of my long range and intermediate high priority goals, which should I work on today?
  2. What will give the highest return for the time invested?
  3. What projects, if left undone, represent the greatest threat to my survival?
  4. What projects does the boss consider the most vital? (we all have bosses!)
  5. What items on my previous daily lists or brain dumps should I work on today?
  6. What do my values suggest? What does company policy suggest?
  7. What has not been considered that will help achieve long term significant results?

Then you need to prioritize this list into: A – vital, B – important, C – some value and D – waste of time.  Hobbs gives 5 questions to ask about the items on your list in order to prioritize them:

  1. Which of the items on my daily action list will help achieve my long range and intermediate high priority goals?
  2. Which will help yield the greatest long term results?
  3. What will give the highest payoff?
  4. What will happen if I don’t do each project today?  Who will suffer?
  5. On a long term basis,  which items will make me feel best if I accomplish it today

After you give a relative priority ranking, then rank within the groups of A, B and C with a number system to rank the most important within each group.   You can only have one  A-1, A-2, etc.  This ought to help you focus.

Should you dispose of the D’s you identify?  Not necessarily, but you can leave them parked in your brain-dump list and see if they become a higher priority later.

Also, you ought to keep in mind just how much time you actually have to work on your highest priorities.  I’m a school teacher and 85% of my work day is taken up by classes – which are my highest professional priorities on an ongoing basis.  So I only have about 15% of my scheduled work day for other priorities.  Granted, I work much longer than the scheduled day, but the majority of my time is non-discretionary.  So most times, my daily list is only a few high priority items.    I don’t list everything in my brain on my daily list.    I use that brain dump or grass-catcher list to keep all those things in a place where I won’t lose them.

So, consider what is most important to you, what kind of time you have available and see what you can accomplish.   The human mind is capable of amazing things, when we help it get the focus it needs.




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