Are you procrastinating? No, you’re making priorities

“Don’t put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today” is the famous saying. But it’s not really good advice

Worker writing on dozens of sticky notes covering a wall

(Bernd Optiz/Getty)

Sure, it’s nice to cross items off your to-do list, but when you focus on small, easily executed tasks, you leave yourself with no time for long-term, big-picture planning—and you’re probably not focusing on high-impact activities.

That means choosing what to do—and what not to do—is the first step. William Faulkner is said to have once advised writers to “kill your darlings”— that is, cut precious phrases from their work. But author John R. Bell argues the idea has relevance for CEOs as well. In Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World, the former executive says companies must sometimes kill profitable lines, ditch clients and reduce their teams to ensure long-term viability.

Productivity experts advise using the 80/20 rule when deciding which things to tackle. Just 20% of what you do produces 80% of your results. Focus most of your day on that 20%. And once you’ve completed those tasks, try applying the 80/20 rule again: Break down each project or assignment on your list into component parts, and figure out which ones will get you the biggest results.

To decide which minor tasks you can off-load, like paperwork, apply the rule one more time: If someone can do a job 80% as well as you can, delegate.