Your Productivity: what is important is seldom urgent

Feb 17, 2020

I’ve become part of a Mentoring/Mastermind group recently and we are set to meet once a month for 6 months.  In the course of our meeting last week, we ended up speaking about ‘The Urgent Important Matrix’.  It’s one of the first business tools I learned about when I was in college, in a 1st year Management module.  Back then, with no concept of what the world of work or true busyness was really like, it didn’t mean that much to me.  Now, as a coach, it’s something I refer to a lot in my work with business owners and managers. 

It’s a simple concept and anyone can use it.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower was famous for many things, amongst them this quote: “What is urgent is seldom important and what is important is seldom urgent.”  The President tried to make decisions of where to allocate time and attention based on their level of importance and urgency.  What’s the difference?  

Important Tasks:            lead us towards our overall goals and, because they are seldom urgent, require planning, organization and initiative.

Urgent Tasks:                  Cause us to react and stop – because they are urgent, we can drop what we’re doing or postpone what we planned to do to get this done instead. 

Some years later, Dr. Stephen Covey developed this into ‘The Urgent Important Matrix’ in his seismic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Here’s a very basic representation.

One could write for a very long time about this matrix – delve deeply into each quadrant to examine what gets you in there, keeps you there, how to get out of one into the other...  It’s Monday morning though and this article is intended as just some food for thought for the week.  Maybe just for this week, as tasks arise and as you think about where your time is going on a given day, think about which Quadrant you might be operating in.  I always know by how I feel which one I’m in on a given day or for a period of time.  If I’m stressed and burned out, it’s Quadrant 1.  If I’m feeling calm and in control and have the feeling of being productive, it’s Quadrant 2.  What about that hamster-on-a-wheel feeling, busy going nowhere? That’s the effect of spending too long in Quadrant 3!

Quadrant 4? Well, that one varies for me.  Sometimes they drain my energy and waste my time and sometimes they energize or enlighten me. Like at our Mastermind meeting – this matrix wasn’t included in the overall goals or agenda of the meeting – it might be considered a distraction that ended up adding great value to the discussion.  30 minutes lost on scrolling Facebook or twitter – maybe not so valuable.   Whether good or bad, it’s just good to be aware of what might be distracting you. 

The real value of the Matrix is as a tool for becoming more intentional about your time.  Here’s a table I use to think about it.

As we become aware of interruptions and distractions, we can more consciously reduce or eliminate them.  Ideally, we would spend most time in Quadrant 2, consciously giving priority to our most important tasks, planning and scheduling them so they don’t end up becoming urgent crises. 

All sounds simple, doesn't it?  As we know, what’s simple isn’t necessarily easy.  I know there are days when I spend far more time in Quadrant 1 than I would like! I’d love to hear how you get on with this so please let a comment to let us know.  If you’re already using it, I’d love to hear what brings you most value. 

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