How to Block Business Distractions

How often do you start your business day with the best of intentions only to find yourself doing anything but what you planned? If you’re like most people it’s more often than you care to admit.

Put it in Front of You

In an earlier article Triage for Business Issues I mentioned a technique that I first read about several years ago. It is one of the best ways I know to block business distractions. The technique is 4 quadrant planning. Basically it is a method of prioritizing things you must, need, or want to do into four quadrants. Below is an example of an Excel spreadsheet to do this.

4 quadrant planning

The concept is very simple as follows:

  • Quadrant 1 includes things that are important but also time sensitive
  • Quadrant 2 consists of items that are really important but are not urgent
  • Quadrant 3 includes items that are urgent but not really that important
  • Quadrant 4 is for things that are neither urgent nor important

So, if your boss has you working on a budget that is due tomorrow that likely would meet both criteria and should be placed in quadrant 1. Long-range planning is important but generally is not urgent, unless of course you procrastinate. Those demanding phone calls and coworkers that interrupt you are generally concerning issues that are urgent to them yet not really important or urgent, especially to you. Then there is quadrant 4 where you really should have almost nothing if anything as it is the area where people waste time. Browsing the web for no real necessity falls in this area. Do your best to stay out of quadrant 4 and you likely will regain a lot of time. Incidentally, even though there is not an urgency to quadrant 2 it is really where you need to spend lots of time as it is where you decide what will matter the most.

The beauty of this method of planning is two-fold in my opinion. One, it forces you to think carefully about where you spend your time. Two, it is simple and since it generally fits on one sheet of paper it is easy for you to put it in front of you to help maintain focus and identify what really matters.

Schedule Others’ Needs

Imagine you are interrupted by a co-worker saying they need to discuss something really important. You know from your 4 quadrant planning matrix that you have an urgent and important budget deadline. So, realizing that you will likely need to help this co-worker if it cannot be delegated, use your matrix to explain your dilemma with trying to help them right then. Then, while consulting your calendar and your planning matrix set a mutually agreeable time to meet with them. Most people will be agreeable if they realize you have something more pressing. Like the matrix itself, the use of deferring someone by getting them on the calendar is a great way to block business distractions. Incidentally, did you notice delegating above? If you are not practicing that then start it now. While you may think you can do it best, chances are there is someone else with more time who can quite easily handle many of the things you take upon yourself.

Regular Review

Things are subject to change, so it is a good idea to review your planning quadrant at least weekly and probably more often. That way you can remove things that no longer matter, such as someone’s urgent but unimportant need that miraculously was resolved without your involvement. This is also the opportunity to move things from Quadrant 2, Important but Not Urgent, to Quadrant 1, Urgent and Important. If you do that before the deadline gets too close you will save yourself a lot of last minute scrambling.

You may be saying to yourself, “Fine. Maybe that works for people who don’t have a lot on their plate, but I’ve got way to many things to worry about to try to reduce them to one page.” No, you don’t. In fact if you spend a few weeks utilizing the 4 quadrant planning matrix I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You will likely realize that a lot of those things you thought mattered really don’t.

You may decide to use another way to implement 4 quadrant planning but I have found that an Excel spreadsheet works well and it is easy to make revisions on a daily or weekly basis in a minimal amount of time.

If you want to know more, contact AimCFO – Contact

As always, your comments are welcomed.


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