How to Focus on the Work that Matters (and Better Manage the Rest)
You’ve got more than enough on your plate. And it’s not a question of working faster or harder. What you’ve noticed is the faster you clear things out, the quicker more things arrive to fill that space.
You need to make choices where you invest your time and energy and effort. This exercise from my book Do More Great Work will help.
1. Download the exercise sheet above
- You can also download a version of this worksheet and the first two chapters of the book here.
2. Understand the matrix
- You’re mapping out the competing priorities between “them” (I’d encourage you to think of your boss’s boss) and you.
- You’re going to write down the how you spent your last two weeks. The more specific you can be about what you did, the better. You’ll likely need to review your calendar to remember some (or all!) of what you did.
- (If you’re now wishing you could remember what you did, then you might consider using this app, which will help.)
3. Complete the matrix
- Top right corner: You care/They care. The stuff you care about and are glad you do. And they stuff you’re pretty sure your boss’s boss cares about too.
- Bottom right corner: You don’t care/They care. It’s on your list, your boss’s boss thinks it matters. But you really wish you weren’t spending your time on it, as it’s not fulfilling or doesn’t feel important
- Bottom left corner: You don’t care/They don’t care. Those tasks that, when you think about it, don’t seem to matter to anyone really.
- Top left hand corner: You care/They don’t care. The stuff you wish you were doing more of – Great Work – but the stuff that your boss’s boss hasn’t bought into.
4. Interpret the matrix
- Top right corner: You care/They care. The sweet spot. The more you have here, the better you are aligned with the role and the happier everyone is.
- Bottom right corner: You don’t care/They care. It has to be done … but not necessarily by you. Look to delegate, be more efficient, and most importantly stop overworking the tasks here. Get clear on what “enough” is.
- Bottom left corner: You don’t care/They don’t care. Stop it! You’re doing this out of confusion, momentum or guilt.
- Top left hand corner: You care/They don’t care. Getting smarter at making this a priority. Repack it and sell it to your boss, so she buys into it. Create a prototype. Or find another place (outside work or a new role at work or a new organization) where you can spend more time on this.
5. Work the matrix
- Check that what you think your boss’s boss cares about is really the truth, or whether it’s just a bunch of old stories and assumptions you might have
- Get clear that what you’ve said you care about is true. What’s the stuff you do that really lights you up, matters and makes a difference? (And this isn’t a measure of how well you do it. Frustratingly, you probably do your Bad Work at a high level of excellence.)
- See if you’d like to change anything. What needs to stop, or at least lessen? What would you like to do more of?
- Be bold, and go show this to your boss. Tell her that this is how you see the world at the moment. How well does it fit with her picture of what matters?
- Use this exercise with your team. Replicate this matrix on a table or a flipcard, give people 5-10 index cards/post-it notes, and get them to follow the process above. Then you’ll see how your team is working, and initiate a useful conversation.