Originally developed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, promoted by Stephen Covey’s top-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective people, and echoed in Dave Ramsey’s book Entreleadership, are four areas of which people spend their time.
The answers can be determined by asking two questions about a particular task:
1) Is it important?
2) Is it urgent?
This concept can also be diagrammed into a four quadrant square focusing on the factors importance and urgency:
NOT URGENT & IMPORTANT
URGENT & IMPORTANT
NOT URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT
URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT
Most people spend their time focused on the two right quadrants URGENT & IMPORTANT and URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT. The reason being that the urgency grabs our attention even if the task at hand is known to be unimportant. We logically wouldn’t waste time on a task that we deem not worth our time, but because of Parkinson’s Law the fact that it is urgent increases (in appearance) its importance.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important – President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I’d like to focus on one quadrant in particular. The often neglected but most useful of the four quadrants is the NOT URGENT & IMPORTANT. Most people do not make time for the NOT URGENT & IMPORTANT. These items are the things we haven’t checked off on our To Do lists in the last 12 months, yet we keep putting them on there.
These items are the core discussion of our team meetings, yet action is never taken. We know they need to get done but often are so busy that they keep getting pushed below all of our fire drills. The NOT URGENT & IMPORTANT quadrant is essential because it’s what we know will be good for our organization or team in the long run.
This quadrant will move the needle.
This quadrant will improve you product.
This quadrant will make you a star.
Make Time for the Not Urgent
1) Schedule it.
Carve out 1 hour out of your week to focus on the NOT URGENT & IMPORTANT. Don’t let anyone interrupt this time. Go offline if need be. Use this time to turn off the water hose on all those fire drills. Ask yourself, “What have I been neglecting that I know needs to get done?” Make a priority list and take action on some of those items.
2) Take time from the URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT quadrant.
By asking if you’re spending your time in the best way you’ll start to identify those tasks that come up with intensity but aren’t accomplishing anything. These are the fire drills that keep coming up with no long term solution. These are the tasks that occur because of lack of planning. These are the opposite of thoughtful and carefully constructed ideas. Identify them and divert your focus onto something more important.
3) Pick up the slack and get your hands dirty.
The NOT URGENT & IMPORTANT tasks/projects are often the things that nobody else wants to do because of their complexity, time consumption, or difficulty. Step up and accomplish something your colleagues aren’t willing to do and you’ll instantly shine. Differentiate yourself as someone who goes the extra mile and always asks “Why are we doing this?”
How do you make time for the not urgent and important? Share your tips!
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I hear blocking off time on your calendar for important tasks (in addition to meetings) forces you to have a start and end time, in addition to being a reminder.
I like to break down large tasks into smaller ones. It gives me a chance to cross off more things, which builds up a nice feeling of accomplishment. My To Do list has two check boxes: Actions and Back Burners. When I write an item, it gets an X in one box. Prioritizing on the spot helps me, somewhat, sort the list.
Agreed. Half the battle is making the commitment to work through the list of tasks without distraction.
Great ideas on prioritization! Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for the post! I’ve just discovered two quite interesting apps implementing the this principle: EISENHOWER (free web client available, iPhone app to be released very soon?) and Priority Matrix (iOS).
It’s amazing how technology can help us focus through apps like these. That is, when they aren’t distracting us in the first place. Draw Something anyone?
Just wanted to give the hint about the EISENHOWER.me app, too. It’s available as iPhone app since two days.