A powerful time management and priority-setting tool made famous by author Steven Covey is called Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle. As its name suggests, this is a tool used by President Dwight Eisenhower to identify tasks and activities that demanded his attention and how to prioritize them.
According to this principle, our tasks will typically fall into one of four quadrants (we also tend to complete them in this order):
- Urgent & Important
- Urgent & Not Important
- Important & Not Urgent
- Not Urgent & Not Important
A common productivity mistake is spending too much time in the “Urgent and Not Important”. The problem with this approach is that, if you keep ignoring the important things (but not urgent things) you want to accomplish long-term, you set yourself up to be reactive when those things eventually become both urgent and important; then you’re stuck in “firefighting” mode.
Prioritizing things that are “Urgent and Not Important” also distracts you from taking action towards what is most important. In essence, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. While it can feel good to cross seemingly urgent items off your list, they don’t really move the needle in your personal or professional life.
At our Ignite Coaches summit many years ago, Ben Chenault helped us organize our to-do list into the following buckets and recommended order:
- Important and Urgent: Necessity. (Don’t stay here long.)
- Important, Not Urgent: Opportunity, strategy, and values-oriented projects. (Stay here as long as possible.)
- Urgent, Not Important: Avoid interruptions and busy work, and limit investment. Delegate this stuff. (Stay here long enough to delegate it.)
- Not Important or Urgent: Eliminate and ignore the trivial and wasteful. (Don’t get pulled here.)
By following this priority matrix, I find that I am able to operate in the zone that is my highest and best use more often.
If we live our lives in a reactionary way, we will never accomplish the bigger goals we set for ourselves. Whether you choose to use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important tool or some other productivity tool, the key is to avoid the urgent distractions and stay focused on what you want to achieve in the long-term. If you do, you’ll find yourself accomplishing so much more you thought possible.
Quote of the Week:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower