My January blog post explained that one of the guiding principles of time management is setting your priorities and intentionally spending your time on your priorities. But it is easy to get lost in texts, emails, and other clutter that grabs our attention now. For example, email alerts pull us away from the task at hand and can take over a good chunk of your time – 28% of your day (!) according to McKinsey. But – and this probably isn’t news to you – responding to email is likely not the most important and productive thing for you to be doing. So how do you set your priorities? 

The Urgent/Important Matrix, attributed to former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, can help you determine where you should focus your time and energy. This framework provides four categories for our activities:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important and Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

You may have noticed that these are also listed in order of priority, with highest priority items at the top of the list, the lowest priority items at the bottom. We can probably all quickly identify the things we need to do each day or each week that are Important and Urgent. And we probably all know that when we are deliberately procrastinating and surfing the internet, we are squarely in the category of Not Important and Not Urgent.

The areas where things get tricky are the second and third categories. We likely give less attention to the things that are Important and Not Urgent and allow things that are Not Important and Urgent to occupy our time. Going back to the email example, the new message chime can trick us into thinking the message we just received is urgent. (The chime is called an “alert,” after all). But this framework encourages us to be reflective instead of reactive. Is the email important? Is responding to it right away (or even today) my priority?

The following additional guidance can help you categorize your own to-do list:

Important and Urgent: Address deadlines, emergencies, and pressing issues. These things must be done right away and have a relatively short-term timeline. Consider setting aside a certain amount of time each day or each week to deal with unexpected Important and Urgent items that may come up.

Important and Not Urgent: Add activities to your calendar that move you toward your longer-term and big-picture goals and objectives. This includes things like strategic planning, business development, networking, team-building, and professional development. These are easy to put off, so deliberately build them into your schedule. Planning ahead can also help you prevent certain things from ending up in Category 1 (Important and Urgent).

Not Important and Urgent: Assess the things that interrupt your day, cut into your limited time, and keep you from your priorities. Instead of responding to every phone call, text message, and email as you receive it, focus on those that most require a timely response. Re-assess the purpose and value of meetings and reporting. Determine which of your tasks only you can do, and which can be delegated. 

Not Important and Not Urgent: Avoid things that distract you from what really matters. This may include things that others ask you to do that do not move you toward your own individual or team objectives. Avoid spending time, energy, and effort on these activities as much as possible (which may mean practicing saying “no”).

It is easy to get distracted by what is right in front of you. By being proactive and thoughtful instead of reactive, you can assess your priorities, focus on what is most important, and use your time more efficiently and effectively.

Copyright © 2018 Neo-Strategic - All Rights Reserved