Important vs Urgent

In any job, it’s easy to get caught up in urgent day-to-day matters — “fire fighting” as many describe it. One of the most useful tools I’ve found for breaking the cycle of always working on what is most urgent rather than most important is this prioritization grid.

Grid used for prioritization of tasks & deliverables, plotting by importance and urgency
Grid used for prioritization of tasks & deliverables, plotting by importance and urgency

The grid helps you divide your tasks & deliverables into four categories:

  1. Urgent & Important (fire fighting) — these are the everyday priorities, things that have either come up urgently or important things that you didn’t get to until they became urgent.
  2. Urgent & Not Important (distraction) — these are the easiest things to move on to once the fire fighting is done, but hardly the most productive. Everyone has their tasks that fall into this category. For me, it’s checking my email or voicemail rather than making a choice to work on something more important.
  3. Not Urgent But Important (quality time — aka fire prevention) — the things that are important. Part of your strategic vision. The kind of things that mean you have left a positive mark on a place after working there. Shouldn’t you be investing more time here?
  4. Not Urgent, Not Important (time wasting) — ever noticed the guy in your office who seems to spend time arranging his desk rather than doing any work? Or putting new colour labels on files that were already perfectly workable? My best friend avoided revision for our final exams in school by deciding he simply HAD to learn Linux right then in that fortnight when revising should have been top priority… 😉

The point isn’t to never do tasks in certain categories, just to become much more conscious of the choices you’re making. I’ve been using this grid for years now and I can certainly not claim that I never do tasks that are not urgent & not important — but now I make a conscious decision about whether to take on the next big important thing, or whether to spend the 5 mins before lunch sorting through my expense reports.

Try it for a week and see if it makes a difference for you!

3 Replies to “Important vs Urgent”

  1. In the final paragraph the nugget appears: know when you are making choices. This avoids the feeling that things simply happen to you. You might still not make the best choice, but at least you’ll be aware of what you chose and perhaps be better at avoiding it next time.

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