What quality sets productive people apart?
Whether entrepreneurs, athletes, authors, or inventors, they all have the same number of hours in a day, just like you, me, and everyone else.
Yet what is the reason they achieve more with the same (or even less) amount of time?
No, it’s not a secret formula or some form of magical ability.
The answer is they simply know how to prioritize.
They know how to say yes to the vital few and no to the trivial many.
They know what’s their single most important task now (SMITN) and they do it.
So if you’re curious to learn more about this catchy acronym, read on. We’ll discuss the importance of SMITN, reasons we fail to do it, and ways we can finally focus on it.
The Importance of Prioritization
You don’t need more time in your day. You need to decide. -Seth Godin
First, take a look at the other end of the spectrum—let's say you don’t prioritize.
You simply do the small tasks that have little to no impact on your life. You spend your days on autopilot, simply reacting to orders thrown at you and emails sent to you. You’re surprised at how fast time flies and wonder how is it already March of 2017.
You can recall more times that you felt unfulfilled instead of moments you felt accomplished.
This scenario might sound crazy but the sad reality is that many people do these and feel this exact same way.
If you want to avoid or change that, prioritization is the key.
Learning how to prioritize is not only necessary for achieving more in less time. It’s also helpful if you want to manage overwhelm and generate your highest level of contribution.
Want practical ways to prioritize effectively?
Reasons for not prioritizing
Focus on being productive instead of busy. -Tim Ferriss
Given that we all have limited resources of time, energy, and attention, why do we still fail to make prioritization a habit?
Here are four possible reasons:
01. Self-prioritization isn’t our priority.
Ironically, we grew up in a society that doesn’t prioritize prioritization, at least for ourselves and according to our terms.
We were raised to answer and cater to others, thereby making their needs our priority, instead of our own. Whether our parents, teachers, employers, children, or society, it has become so automatic for us to follow guidelines and standards that were set for us, instead of by us.
A mindset shift is crucial, therefore, in establishing what we need to do for ourselves if we are to be productive.
02. Busy-ness is regarded as a badge of honor.
The more you work, the more you produce. The more hours you put in your job, the more overtime pay you get. The more blog posts you publish, the more traffic you get to your site.
While there is some truth to this, we still need to evaluate and direct our efforts towards the activities that will yield the best results.
Again, another mindset shift is required for this: Better, not more. Quality, not quantity. Productive, not busy.
03. It’s easier and faster to do the small, unimportant things.
We get a rush of satisfaction when we check things off on our to-do list, no matter how trivial the activity is. It’s far easier to do the small things and feel good about it because that’s how our brains work by default (read: instant gratification).
For this reason, discipline and patience are required to focus on the long-term and big impact activities that really matter.
04. It’s difficult to say no.
A co-worker asks you to fix his printer. Sure, I’d love to help.
A neighbor asks you to walk her dog. Of course, she asked nicely.
A relative asks you to plan a birthday party. No problem, we’re family.
Agreeing to these kinds of requests is expected of us and in our nature because we’re good at it and we’re good people (or we’d like to appear to be). But in the long run, always saying yes to others at the expense of saying no to ourselves, is giving up our power to control our time (and our lives) and giving it to others instead.
Single Most Important Task Now
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. -Stephen Covey
SMITN, which stands for Single Most Important Task Now, is just an acronym I came up with a few months back to remind myself of the importance of prioritization. Since then, it's been this catchy name I've been using as a thought trigger in case I’d be multi-tasking or doing unnecessary things.
Similar to the concepts of MIT / Most Important Task, “Eat that Frog” (Brian Tracy), and the “One Thing” (Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan), SMITN will help you recognize and focus on the most critical but significant activity on your plate right now, given your limited resources of time, energy, and attention.
Here is the breakdown:
- Single - One thing, not “top 3 priorities,” and absolutely no multi-tasking
- Most important Task - Your #1 task or the top of your to-do list. Important, not urgent.
- Now - Not tomorrow, not next quarter, but at this very moment.
Now that we've established what it is, why it's important, and it's several uses, here are three ways to identify your SMITN:
01. Ask yourself the right questions.
- If I were to accomplish only one activity today, which would make the most impact on my life and goals?
- Which task would make all the other tasks easier or faster to do?
- What is the best use of my time, energy, and attention right now?
- Is this an activity I need to handle personally or not? Can I automate or delegate it to someone else?
- If at the end of the day you were to accomplish only one task, what would it be that would make you feel the most fulfilled?
- If at the end of the week you look back on today, what would be that one task that you’d be most glad to have gotten over with?
02. Plot your task in the Urgent and Important Matrix
This strategy is attributed to former US President D. Einsenhower whose principle helps us differentiate urgent and important tasks and therefore prioritize effectively.
Quadrant 1 holds tasks that are urgent and important and quadrant 2, those that are important but not urgent. Quadrant 3 contains tasks that are urgent but not important and quadrant 4, those that are neither important nor urgent.
Right off the bat, avoid tasks that fall under quadrant 4 aka time and energy wasters. Instead, focus on quadrant 2 (important but not urgent) because these are the tasks that are most impactful for your personal and professional goals.
03. List down what your SMITN is not.
Depending on your goals, sometimes it's simpler to list down what your SMITN is not in order to ultimately narrow down and be clear on what it is instead.
Remember, we all have limited time, energy, and attention so how we use these resources must not be taken lightly. Here are common non-SMITNs and ways to avoid them:
- constantly checking your email vs. schedule an email-checking period
- endlessly scrolling through social media vs. turning off notifications and deleting SM apps
- watching TV or Netflix vs. exercising, reading books, or listening to educational podcasts
- going out for drinks vs. sleeping a good number of hours
- insisting on doing a task you're bad at or don't like doing vs. automating or delegating
"They know what's their SMITN...and they do it"
"If it's not scheduled, it's not real." -Marie Forleo
Now that you’ve identified your SMITN, it’s up to you to do it.
Sounds too easy, right? Well, it actually is once you schedule it.
Similar to the principle behind setting a client meeting, doctor's visit, or DMV appointment, if you block out a specific time for an activity, the chances of it getting your time and attention will skyrocket.
After all, your SMITN is simply a thought in your head or written down words on a piece of paper until you act on it.
Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else. -Peter Drucker
Identifying and acting on your SMITN can be the most productive thing you can do each day. By focusing on the task that would have the most impact in your life and best move you towards your goals, you'll be able to at least gain some clarity (and sanity!) on getting the right things done day after day.