Big rocks first
One of my favorite illustrations of the importance is a story from Dr. Stephen R. Covey. I’ll give you the short version- a quick google search will give you the longer version if you like.
One day a teacher put a very large jar on the table in front of his students. He then pulled out a bag of large rocks, and piled them into the jar until they reached the rim of the jar.
“Is the jar full?” he asked his students. “Yes!” they answered.
The teacher pulled out a bag of small pebbles and poured them into the jar, filling the spaces left between the large rocks.
“Is the jar full?” he asked his students. Having figured out where this was going, the students answered “Probably not.”
Next, the teacher took a bag of sand and fill up the jar to the very top.
“Is the jar full?” he asked his students. “Yes.” they answered.
The teacher then pulled out a pitcher of water and began to pour until at last the water reached the top of the jar.
“Now it is full,” he said.
The teacher then posed a question: “What would have happened if I had put things in the jar in a different order?”
“They wouldn’t have fit,” the students answered.
“Exactly,” replied the teacher. “The same is true for life. Whatever is most important you must put in first, then the next most important, and so on- otherwise you will run out of room for what matters most.”
As moms, we have lots we’re trying to fit into our lives- as I’m sure the activity from the last lesson showed. So if we want to effectively manage our time, we must know what is most important and choose to put those things in our lives with the correct prioritization. The most important things- the big rocks- have to go in first, or you’ll never fit them in.
The Time Management Matrix
One of my favorite ways to figure out what needs to be prioritized is to use a Time Management Matrix- also known as an Eisenhower Matrix.
A basic Eisenhower Matrix looks like this:
Simple, right? It has two axis: Urgent and Important + Less Urgent and Less Important. This creates four quadrants that make four categories.
The Urgent + Important
Maybe your daughter has a rash and you need to call the doctor to get her in for an appointment today. Or you’ve let the dishes pile up so much that there’s no more clean silverware (I’ve never done this of course…cough cough). Or the fridge is down to pickles and jelly and you really should go grocery shopping before dinner tonight.
Obviously, what goes in this category will somewhat depend on the day- obviously if someone needs to go to the Emergency Room, that’s going to trump needing to get groceries for the day. But anything that really does need to be done TODAY (or ASAP) and is also important should go on this list.
The Important, but Less Urgent
This is stuff like meal planning, figuring out a date for your next dentist appointment, getting a birthday present for a friend, etc. Things that definitely need to be done, but they can be scheduled.
So for these things, you’ll need to decide WHEN you’re going to do them, and put them in your schedule or on your to-do list in such a way that you remember to do them (preferably before they hit the urgent category!).
In other words, doing the dishes *before* they hit the no-clean-silverware phase… (do you see how this is designed to reduce your stress?)
The Urgent, but Less Important
These are things that definitely need to happen (and ASAP) but they’re just not at the top of your priority list for the day – which means they may need to either get done by someone else or not at all.
Sometimes you can delegate the things in this category- maybe you do need to pick up that medicine refill today, but your husband can do it on the way home from work so you don’t have to pack up the kids to go get it. Or maybe a grocery delivery service can bring you your groceries so you don’t have to get to the store.
The Less Important and Less Urgent
This last category is one that some would call the “delete” category, but I’m going to disagree with that, at least for Mamas.
As Moms, we often have to put things on the back burner. We put our dreams and ideas on hold for a season so that we can invest in these little humans; how that plays out may look different for each mama, but we all do it in some way or another.
I highly recommend making a list of those types of things and setting that aside to pull from when you’re able.
Some things that go in this category, however, probably do need to be deleted- hint: if you’ve been putting it off for months with no consequences, it might actually not need to be done. 😉
Action Step: Using the Time Management Matrix
So you’ve got the idea of this- four categories to help you divide up what needs to be done when. Now it’s time to get practical and do that with your to-do list. Remember that load assessment we did in the last lesson? Now it’s time to pull that out!
Divide up your load list into the categories. And remember, this isn’t an exact science. If you’re not sure which category to put it in, just pick one! Some things will change category as you go along, too. The idea is to be able to do this quickly, so don’t over-analyze it.
To help you with this, I’ve got two templates you can use: a Trello Template and a printable template. Use whichever works for you!
The point of this exercise is to help you sort out what is most important of all the things in your current load. Once you’ve done one for your life in general, it’s a great idea to do another one for your upcoming week (or day, or both) as well. You can also print out this matrix, laminate it, and put it on your fridge or wall to help you quickly sort out your tasks at any point in the day!