Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys

There’s one thing for certain in life or business, and that’s there are only so many hours in a day.  Many forces work against us constantly, tugging at our shirt sleeves for attention and time.  I’m often asked how I manage to get so much accomplished in one day.  It’s simple really; use the motto “Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys”.  Here’s what I mean:

Eagles are your top priorities that HAVE TO get accomplished today.  No matter what.  An order has to ship; you have to call a client, send a quote, attend a meeting, write a brief, and hire a staff member, whatever.  You are dead if you don’t do it.  These are your strategic top priorities for the day.

Turkeys are time sinks.  They suck the life out of you by draining one of your most important assets…time.  Maybe you have to sort through ten pages of SKU’s, print a report, or enter pages of hand-written inventory numbers.  These may be somewhat important tasks, and they have to get accomplished too; but if you let the Turkey’s rule they will monopolize your day leaving zero time for your important Eagle tasks.

So how do you define the two and get things going?  After all, you want to be Feeding Eagles right?  Amazingly it is just as simple as writing a to-do list.  Have you ever looked back on your day and wonder “Where did all the time go?  I was supposed to get more accomplished!” Using a to-do list focuses your attention on the Eagles, and pushes the pack of gobbling Turkeys off for a bit.

There are a number of to-do list managers, methods and software that may help you with creating your list.  This article isn’t about them.  I’ve been using daily to-do lists since I was in college at Florida State University back in the early 1980’s.  It used to be a piece of scrap paper, old envelopes worked great.  That morphed into using a dedicated legal pad, and I would highlight items as I accomplished them.  These days I’m using the built in Outlook task manager, as I use that for my e-mail.  The format really doesn’t matter as long as you are consistent.  Here are some tips:

  1. Be brief.  Just a few words for each item.  This is your list.  You know what they mean.
  2. If you are creating a follow up list for items you have delegated to staff – start the line with their name.  I organize these at the top of the page and group them by staff member.
  3. Eagles rise to the top of the list.  Outlook lets you sort them by simply clicking and dragging.
  4. For Super Important Eagles, after I print the list I hand-draw a box around the item or draw a star next to the item so they stand out.
  5. Delegate the Turkeys if you can.  Give clear, concise instructions and the expectation of what you want accomplished.  Make sure you follow up.
  6. Use a calendar.  Look ahead and plan your activities.  Get them on the list with a date assigned to them.
  7. Print the list and carry it with you all day and make notes.
  8. As tasks are accomplished cross them off your list with a pen.  It is very satisfying.  You are getting things accomplished!
  9. Update your list.  Repeat.

Your Eagle tasks are your most important things that you have to do today.  Get these accomplished first.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the work either.  They just have to be actioned first.  By “feeding” them, this means that you are dedicating time and energy into accomplishing this important goal.  You have to think strategically and prioritize what needs to be accomplished.

If you have a very large project, assign a due date on a calendar and work backwards dividing small segments of the project into chunks.  Make each chunk an Eagle task, due on a particular date.  If you are involving other staff members, make sure you discuss assignments, tasks, and most importantly due dates with them.  Be realistic.

By time “starving” the Turkeys, you make way for the Eagle items to get handled.  Once these are out of the way, you can focus on the Turkey tasks that need to be handled, but aren’t as critical.  Turkeys could be long range items, or tasks that need to be handled, but really don’t have a due date.  Updating an employee handbook, or planning on some training a month or two from now.  Important tasks granted, but not as critical as getting an order produced and shipped, or returning phone call from a client.

The key is to make it work for you. I’ve found that the best way for me is to use one list, one calendar and just update it once a day.  (the “touch it once” rule)  Ten or fifteen minutes of planning in the morning and I’m organized for the day.  Will sorting Eagles and Turkeys work for you?  It all depends on your skills with being organized and disciplined with your tasks.  Try it!


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  • Chas:

    Thanks for the comment. It’s always nice to hear someone’s perspective on what I write about… I love the collaborative idea you are taking. Maybe I’ll try that. My “To-Do” list is something that keeps me organized, focused and on track. Everything that I do is deadline driven and I want items finished early if we can.



  • Hi Marshall – Always good to have another perspective on time management. I think the transition from ‘sole operator’ to ‘team player’ is hard for many of us. Once I finally understood that other people’s effectiveness was dependent on my effectiveness I lifted my game. But there’s always the risk of falling back into the self-reliant mode – so you’re right – you need to keep refreshing how you do the day job all the time. I’ve introduced ‘Smartsheet’ with a couple of teams now (this isn’t an ad) – but it’s a very easy online project tool for managing shared tasks and projects etc without all the bells and whistles of something like MS Project and without the version control nightmare of a spreadsheet. I use this to do the Monday morning check on what’s on the go and what’s lagging to sort out the ‘eagles’ and ‘turkeys’ and make a full run through regularly! I’m going to think of the task lists like this from now on! There are also the low flying ‘ducks’ which unsettle the best laid plans … (Thanks for visiting my blog by the way!)

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