Self - April 23, 2018

Getting The Right Things Done: Important vs. Urgent

I’m always looking to learn more about how I can be a better version of myself at work and in my personal life. I guess you could say I’m a self-development junkie. But there’s always room for improvement, right? Especially as an entrepreneur, my brain is always going: thinking of ways to improve, grow, streamline, and the like.

Lately, I’ve been really into time-management. I’ve been taking a step back and thinking about how to be a better steward of my time (and resources) in order be more effective in all areas of my life. We’ve already talked about the importance of time management, but that was just the beginning; there’s so much more good stuff to cover that I truly think will help you be better at life (ha).

I hope you’re *in* for this kind of content. Because I’m totally here for it.

Time Is A Limited Resource

Sadness. We know this, but I think we like to pretend this isn’t true. Am I right? We love to believe we can get everything done when that’s simply not possible. As much as we wish we could get it all done, we have to start somewhere. We have to prioritize.

Prioritizing your to-do list (and life) is obviously a personal process, but that doesn’t mean you should start from scratch. There’s a lot to learn from smart people who did great things and got a lot of *ish* done. I basically stalk successful people. Just kidding, but what I mean is that I love learning how they think and how they get things done. It helps me to see the world differently, improve my own processes, and think outside the box.

Some of us are naturally better at getting a lot accomplished. But even if you’re one of those people, there are some proven techniques that can help boost your productivity even more. Today, I want to introduce you to the Eisenhower matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix: Origin

Before getting into what the Eisenhower Matrix is, I want to explain where it comes from.

Many people have studied Eisenhower’s strategies for time management, productivity, and task management. Needless to say, he got a lot done. You might have heard one of his famous quotes:

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”

Dwight Eisenhower

President Eisenhower made a lot of really important decisions (I mean, obviously. He was President). But really though, he accomplished a lot. During his presidency, Eisenhower managed Cold-War tensions, ended the war in Korea and launched several programs that directly led to the Interstate Highway System, the exploration of space (NASA), and launch of the internet (DARPA). No big deal. Before he was president, he was a five-star general in the army, serving as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you.

The point is, Eisenhower was constantly making important decisions for how to manage his time and resources. So thank you for your matrix, Sir Eisenhower. I dig it.

The Eisenhower Matrix: What Is It?

Basically, it’s a tool for effectively managing your time. It’s an easy, yet effective way to help you prioritize your to-do list.

The Eisenhower Matrix is essentially a decision-making tool that can help you sort through your tasks and ensure that what’s most important doesn’t get pushed aside by the sudden, unexpected, and urgent. Most importantly, it helps you focus on your long-term goals by providing a framework to prioritize what’s most important (read: the tasks that contribute to your goals).

The first thing you need to know about Eisenhower’s prioritization matrix is that there are four quadrants and everything you have to do in your life will fit into one of these quadrants. The word ‘quadrant’ makes it sound like this really technical and fancy thing but it’s actually quite simple. Basically, everything in your life is just divided into the following 4 categories:

  • Quadrant 1: urgent and important tasks
  • Quadrant 2: not urgent but important tasks
  • Quadrant 3: urgent and not important tasks
  • Quadrant 4: not urgent and not important tasks

Here’s what it looks like (below) and I’ve made you one you can print out too if you’re interested.

Now that you see what it looks like, let’s break down what all these quadrants mean.

Quadrant One: Urgent & Important Tasks

First of all, you have the tasks that are urgent and important. These are the tasks that are screaming out to you to get done but are also important because they’re going to help you achieve your long-term goals and fulfill your mission in life. Here are some examples of activities that might fall into Q1 on the prioritization matrix depending on your sitch:

  • Meeting a work deadline
  • Responding to a job offer
  • Medical emergencies
  • Your car breaking down
  • Meal prep
  • Paying your bills

These are the kind of tasks that make you feel stressed because there will be negative consequences if you don’t get them done. Thankfully, when it comes to prioritizing tasks, most of these can be moved into Q2 (more on this in a minute!) by being organized and planning your time so you don’t have to do them at the last second.

Quadrant Two: Not Urgent But Important Tasks

So this is where you want to be spending your time. Not urgent but important tasks are the ones that help you achieve your most important goals and have to do with relationships, planning, faith, and self-improvement. Here are some examples of activities that fall into Q2 on the prioritization matrix, again, dependent on your life:

So… you might have realized that they’re all the things you want to be doing in your life but haven’t got around to yet. And that’s kinda the point! Q2 tasks are all of those tasks that you feel like you ‘should’ be doing but because they’re never urgent, they usually get looked over and forgotten.

Q2 activities are the activities that will give you the most happiness, fulfillment, and success in life so they’re reallllllly important y’all. When you’re prioritizing tasks, it can be hard to make time for them because you don’t actually know what you really want in life or what your mission is. Or because everything else just seems more important at the moment you know?!

Your inclination will always be to focus on the urgent stuff but it’s SO important to prioritize these tasks. There will never be a ‘someday’ when you will be less busy or have less to get done (OK, maybe when you retire but that is AGES away) so there’s no point putting them off. You have to consciously decide that you’re going to make time for these things. If you need help doing that, it’s a good idea to see if you can squeeze some of them into a morning routine so that way they definitely get done every day (before the day gets busy!).

Quadrant Three: Urgent & Not Important Tasks

These tasks are the ones that need your attention now but aren’t really going to help you achieve your long-term goals. Here are some examples of activities that fall into Q3 on the prioritization matrix:

  • Replying to text messages right away
  • Answering your phone while you’re working
  • Following the news

When it comes to prioritizing tasks, most people spend their time on Q3 tasks, thinking that they’re working in Q1. And the reason they think they’re in Q1 is that many Q3 tasks help others out so they feel really important.

And this one’s freakin’ hard for me! I’ve spoken before on BTD about the fact that the reason I’m SO serious about all of this planning and prioritizing stuff is because I want to be living in a way that glorifies God and that means helping my neighbor and chatting with the painter guy at my house and putting you guys, my readers, before myself.

I guess it depends what your mission is. My mission is to serve others and to glorify God, so doing things for others is helping me achieve my long-term goal. So this one’s kinda hard for me because I love helping others, but sometimes I do just need to be a little more selfish and protect my time from others. Or at least batch of all of this stuff together so I’m not getting distracted throughout the day!

Quadrant Four: Not Urgent & Not Important Tasks

Activities that are in this quadrant are urgent but not important. So basically, they’re the activities that you do when you’re procrastinating and give you the feeling that you’re wasting your time. Here are some examples of activities that fall into Q4 on the prioritization matrix:

  • Watching Netflix
  • Looking at that Facebook post your friend tagged you in
  • Scrolling through Instagram

Y’all know how important I think it is to stop and slow down every once in a while (so important that I even wrote this post all about it) so restful activities go into Q2. In Q4 are the activities that don’t really need to be done and don’t have any real benefit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should give up Netflix! But if you’re feeling guilty (ps guilt tells us SO much) when you’re relaxing, it’s probably because you’re prioritizing tasks in Q4 rather than Q2. You don’t need to eliminate Q4 activities completely but you do need to make sure you’re not spending too much time doing them or you won’t achieve your goals. Limit these to only a few hours a week and you’ll have so much more time to get stuff done (and when you have time off, you’ll actually feel like you earned it).

How To Use The Eisenhower Matrix In Real Life

There are a few ways y’all can use Eisenhower’s prioritization matrix to prioritize your life.

First of all, I recommend getting cozy with a cup of coffee and a journal.  Write out all the things you spend your time doing (these are the things you actually do, not the things you want to do) and then categorize those tasks into each of the categories I’ve spoken about. Yes, it’s nerdy, but it totally works! This way you can see where you’re currently spending your time and what you can improve on.

You want to be prioritizing tasks in Q2 so that you can avoid all the crises and drama that happens in Q1, balance the requests of Q3 with your own needs and can truly enjoy your rest time in Q4, knowing that you’ve earned it! Q2 tasks need to be your top priority, no matter what life throws your way.

Once you’ve had a look at all the things you actually spend your time doing, take a minute to look at the things you want to be doing and create a prioritization matrix you can work off in the future. You might find that a lot of the urgent tasks you’re doing aren’t actually adding any value to your life, which means it’s time to be harsh with yourself and leave those off your to-do list. Or you might find you’re simply spending way too much time watching Riverdale and need to dedicate a little more time to the important stuff (not that Riverdale isn’t important…).

10 tips to prioritize your list

Here are a few tips on how to prioritize your to-do list:

  1. Start by cutting out anything that’s not important, eliminate as much as you can
  2. Look at the activities you’ve got in Q1 and ask yourself whether being more organized would have prevented those things from getting stressful and urgent. If yes, figure out what you can do to avoid that task getting into Q1 next time and put it in your calendar.
  3. Identify all those things that you want to have in Q2 and find a way to work at least 3 of them into your daily routine.
  4. Look at your Q3 activities and get really strict with eliminating any tasks that aren’t adding any benefit to your life. I’m not saying don’t help others but there’s a fine line between helping from a place of love and from a place of fear. Make sure you’re only helping from a place of love!
  5. Take a look at the activities you’ve got in Q4 and choose your favorite. You don’t want to eliminate Q4 activities completely but if you know which is your favorite it means the time you spend in Q4 will be time better spent. And you won’t feel like you’re wasting your life!
  6. Once you have your to-do list categorized into each of the quadrants, it’s time to start prioritizing tasks within each quadrant. There’s no special technique here but the key is to put it all into your calendar so that you can make the most of the time you have.
  7. If you’re struggling to categorize everything, don’t be scared to have a coffee with a friend who can help you figure out what you should be spending your time doing. Our friends often see things we can’t!
  8. Make sure you’re realistic when you’re doing all of this. Y’all know I’m as ambitious as anyone but overwhelming yourself with tasks isn’t helping anyone.
  9. Schedule in time to rest, relax and recover. Burning yourself out won’t get you to your goals any faster.
  10. Y’all know I love using apps to organize my life. If you’re not using any, check out this blog post on my favorites.

OK I could honestly go on about this stuff all day, but I’m going to stop here. If you find this kinda stuff helpful, make sure you get out a journal and start figuring out how you’re spending your time and what you want to change. But either way, I hope that y’all took something from what I shared above.

Let me know if you’re interested in knowing more about how I prioritize and stay organized. I love this topic and there’s plenty more I could say!

I made this for you if you want to print it out for reference!

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