Urgent and Important

July 9th, 2009 by Sharon Larsen

Today we introduce the tool mentioned last time, the Time Management Matrix, that will help you as an entrepreneur to prioritize your tasks throughout the day.

 

 

The most powerful tool that I’ve found for sifting through piles of tasks is Stephen R. Covey’s “Time Management Matrix.”[1] I do not claim any credit for these ideas but can definitely attest to their usefulness. This section is an explanation of how I have applied these concepts to my business practices.

 

The Time Management Matrix

 

Urgent

Not Urgent

Important

I

Crises

Pressing deadlines

Deadline-driven projects

II

Preventing time crunches

Relationship building

Recognizing new opportunities

Planning, recreation

Not Important

III

Interruptions, some calls

Some mail, some reports

Some meetings

Proximate, pressing matters

Popular activities

IV

Trivia, busy work

Some mail

Some phone calls

Time wasters

Pleasant activities

 

More information on Covey’s “Time Management Matrix” can be found in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (149-156).

 

Covey labels these quadrants with numbers and names; for example, quadrant I is “both urgent and important.”[2] I’ll start with a simple example of how quadrant I works. Let’s say you walk out into your front yard and see your child step off the curb directly into the path of a speeding truck. This situation requires you to take action immediately. It wouldn’t matter if the phone started ringing or you had left something boiling on the stove; all of your attention would shift to preserving your child’s life.

 

Take that principle into a business environment, and it is incredibly surprising the variety of emergencies that can occur. I had a quadrant I situation in my office the beginning of last week. I had just finished up SEO work on a famous musician’s web site. The project was completed by the Friday afternoon due date, but we had a call on Monday morning advising us that we had worked on the right artist but the wrong site!

 

It wasn’t our fault (the error grew out of a miscommunication between the two companies), but it resulted in my team starting from square one that morning, all of a sudden having two weeks worth of work to complete in just one. Our focus immediately jumped to correcting the oversight and getting ourselves back on track. The project hadn’t even been on our to-do list for that day, but as soon as the task arose, it became our highest priority.

 

In quadrant II we find tasks that are “the heart of effective personal management.”[3] These items are important but not urgent—for example, finding the time to have a talk with your kids about drugs when they get old enough to understand. This is very important but has no real external deadline. “Old enough to understand” is a pretty loose guideline; you could even have part of the talk at ten, some at eleven, some at twelve, and so forth. However, if you ignore this conversation until your child is old enough to encounter and experiment with drugs, the need reaches quadrant I and becomes a crisis. Learning to make time to deal with quadrant II keeps you from living life in a state of urgency.

 

In the business world, quadrant II reflects the heavy lifting between you and your goals. This is the tedious work that you assign yourself in order to achieve your dreams. Covey maintains that a successful life is one that works mainly from this quadrant. For an entrepreneur whose entire life and livelihood hinges on the ability to follow through with long-term goals, quadrant II must be the priority.

 

 

We’ll cover quadrants II and IV next time – see you then!


[1] Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Free Press-Simon & Schuster, 2004), 151.

[2] 7 Habits, 152.

[3] 7 Habits, 153.

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