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Time Management: Urgent Versus Important

Do you ever feel like the majority of your time is spent putting out fires and dealing with one urgent matter after the next? As business owners, we’re often faced with having too much to do and not enough time to do it. This can leave us operating in reactive mode instead of focusing on proactive tasks that can help us reach our goals.

According to Dwight D Eisenhower, “Most things which are urgent are not important, and most things which are important are not urgent.” One step towards effect time management is to distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. Important activities lead to accomplishing business goals, while urgent tasks have immediate consequences that impact other tasks or routines and distract us from our goals. Effective time management includes prioritizing the important/non-urgent things that help us get to where we need to be.

Creating an Urgent/Important matrix is a great way to determine priorities and help avoid distracting tasks and activities that rob of our time and resources.

Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Successful People” categorizes tasks into four areas:

  1.  Urgent and Important – These tasks tend to monopolize our immediate attention and can include things like pressing deadlines, dealing with equipment failure, managing difficult clients or dealing with things left to the last minute.
  2. Urgent and Non-Important – These activities need to be done but can stop you from achieving your goals and get in the way of completing other important work. These tasks can include frequently responding to email or returning calls, dealing with staff issues, attending too many meetings, or reacting to artificial deadlines.
  3. Non-Urgent and Important – These activities help in reaching long-term goals and are essential to the long-term growth of your business. These tasks are proactive. They require foresight, planning and discipline to ensure they are not pushed aside or overwhelmed by urgent/important tasks.
  4. Non-Urgent and Non-Important – These are unnecessary tasks that we use to kill time, like surfing the web or adding unnecessary details or pictures to reports, and they displace effort that should be spent on important activities.

INSERT TABLE

The Urgent/Important Matrix

High Importance

Low Urgency

Non-Urgent and Important

Urgent and Important

High Urgency

Non-Urgent and Non-Important

Urgent and non-important

Low Importance

 

Use the matrix to prioritize your activities.

  1. Create a task list
  2. Rate each task from 1-5 on its importance to helping you meet your goals
  3. Evaluate the urgency of each task
  4. Place each task in the appropriate quadrant of the matrix

The matrix allows you to quickly take note of the truly urgent issues, allows you to identify the important tasks that need to get done in a timely manner to ensure they don’t become tomorrow’s emergencies, and identify less important items that maybe delegated, rescheduled or re-evaluated in terms of their impact on your time and resources.