One tool to make your planning easier is the Eisenhower box.
Urgent tasks are things that you feel like you need to react to: emails, phone calls, texts, news stories.
Meanwhile, in the words of Brett McKay, “Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals.”
Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough.
The reason I like the Eisenhower Matrix is that it provides a clear framework for making the decisions over and over again.
Urgent Important Matrix template
The template for an Urgent Important Matrix is a simple 2 x 2 square. The resulting four quadrants reflect the degree of urgency and importance of individual tasks. The vertical axis shows ‘Importance;’ the horizontal axis, ‘Urgency.’
This handy tool relies on the answer to just two questions:
- Is a task important?
- Is a task urgent?
Each task is then positioned on the prioritization matrix, thus providing a visual representation of which critical activities you should focus your resources and effort on, and which are essentially distractions.
1. Plans: Important but Not Urgent
These are the activities that help you achieve your long and mid-term goals and objectives. Because they aren’t necessarily pressing for attention, we often put them off to deal with “urgent” issues.
- Longer term planning
- Work that directly contributes towards goals and objectives
- Risk analysis
- Relationship and team building
- Education and training
- Proactive maintenance
- Creating a budget and savings plan
Invest more of your time in this quadrant to help prevent and eliminate many of the urgent activities.
2. Crisis: Urgent and Important
Important and Urgent activities are either emergencies that you couldn’t predict or those that you’ve left until the last minute and have reached crisis point. These are things we have to manage right now and have a relatively short-term focus.
Issue management includes:
- Fire-fighting & pressing problems
- Equipment breakdowns
- Client complaints
- Important topics that you did not deal with
By spending more time in developing systems and plans, you can make many of these tasks more efficient or even eliminate them outright.
3. Interruptions: Urgent but Not Important
Urgent but Not Important activities are things that sap your time and energy without contributing to longer term benefits. They keep you busy but have no real value.
Disturbing and Interrupting tasks include:
- Regular meetings and reports
- Phone calls and text messages
- Most emails (although some emails could be urgent and important)
- Requests from others that don’t directly contribute to your objectives
- Tasks that “We’ve always done this way” that are ineffective
Renegotiate deadlines, delegate where possible, and challenge the status quo of “regular” activities that don’t necessarily add value, e.g., reports that no one reads or actions.
4. Distractions: Not Urgent and Not Important
These activities are neither important for achieving your long-term goals nor urgent. They are essentially distracting you from doing things that matter.
Unimportant jobs include:
- Excessive or irrelevant email
- Personal phone calls
- Social media usage
- Unimportant or unproductive meetings
- Anything that causes you to procrastinate on, or delay, important tasks
Reduce, or completely avoid spending time, effort, and resources on activities in this quadrant if where possible.
And like anything in life, consistency is the hard part.
Be honest with yourself and delegate and even delete not important tasks.