The big Difference Between Urgent and Important…
A friend of mine once told me that he never had enough time to get everything done he wanted to. He asked me for advice. I suggested he distinguish between which activities are important and which are urgent. And then I gave him two options. Either he should get up earlier each day or alternatively focus only on the important things that will have a long-term impact on his life. Wisely, he chose the second option.
US President Dwight Eisenhower once said that “what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” He went one step further by developing the Eisenhower Matrix to differentiate important activities from the urgent ones.
He defined important activities as having an outcome that leads to the achievement of your objectives. Conversely urgent activities, while demanding immediate attention, often are associated with the achievement of someone else’s goals, rather than your own.
To use Eisenhower’s matrix effectively you need to ask two questions whenever a task is presented to you:
- Is this task urgent?
- Is this task important?
Depending on your answers the activity will then be assigned to one of four quadrants:
Quadrant 1 (Urgent and Important)
This is the stress quadrant where the task is both urgent and important and therefore needs to be acted on immediately. A project might be approaching its deadline or an unexpected crisis has blown up in your face.
Whatever the case it carries the highest priority for action.
Quadrant 2 (Not Urgent, but Important)
This is the value quadrant where the task at hand is not urgent (yet), but it is important in relation to achieving
your objectives. This is where the organisation’s vision and plans get worked on, the team gets developed and
relationships get built. It is the quadrant where you should spend most of your time because it is where the
most company value gets created.
Quadrant 3 (Urgent, but not Important)
This is the deception quadrant where screw ups happen and interruptions and distractions occur. The task is
urgent but it’s not important in achieving the set objectives. If you can, ignore them. If you can’t, then delegate
them to someone else to deal with it.
Quadrant 4 (Not Urgent and Not Important)
This is the regret quadrant where time is wasted on activities that don’t matter – e.g. checking emails too often or long-winded phone calls. Quadrant 4 activities should be discontinued immediately.
Modern business is a pressure cooker which makes it sometimes difficult to differentiate between the urgent activities and the really important ones. Many times we default to dealing with seemingly urgent activities first because we get a nasty email or someone is yelling down the phone at us demanding our instant attention. We should try to resist attending to these urgent matters as an immediate priority unless they also qualify as important. Whatever else it’s a good idea to eliminate quadrant 4 activities altogether and maximize quadrant 2 activities. Reducing (unnecessary) urgency in your organisation is a good thing, no matter what else you do…