Are you really prioritizing the right activities? This past weekend my wife and I hosted our daughter’s bridal shower. It was emotional on many levels as this is our oldest daughter and the first one to be engaged and on the road to marriage within a few weeks. She lives in Nashville, TN and coming to grips with the fact that she is not coming home was something my wife and I had to process individually and together. We knew the day would come and here it is.
As we reflected on her life to this point, our goal was to equip her as best we could to have a solid foundation, be a young lady, work hard, respect others, and appreciate life’s journey. This was just another reminder of making sure we prioritize the right activities.
Do you have a system for prioritizing the right activities? I use the decision making matrix as often as I can and need to make it a habit. I’m fairly confident this started with Dwight D. Eisenhower then brought to the masses with Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Below is the matrix and below are how it can be used to make sure you are prioritizing the important stuff in your life.
The Difference Between Urgent and Important
Urgent means the task requires immediate attention. These are the to-do’s that shout out loud – NOW! Urgent tasks put us in a reactive mode which usually is a defensive, hurried, negative and narrow-focused mindset.
Important means tasks that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they are not. When we focus on important activities we operate in a responsive mode, which helps us stay rational, calm, and open to new opportunities.
It’s a pretty intuitive distinction, yet most of us frequently fall into the trap of believing that all urgent activities are important. This mind-set in part originates from our ancestors where the urgent was important – like being chased by a saber-tooth cat because it could be the difference between life and death.
Like I mentioned earlier, the new technologies are constantly bombarding us like the dings of email, Twitter, and texts. We are being conditioned to be in an “always-on” state and we have the high potential to lose sight of the truly important and our long term direction. Working with the decision tree and reviewing your playbook can help you avoid burnout and stagnation because you keep your long term objectives at the top of your mind.
Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important Tasks
Quadrant 1 tasks are both urgent and important. These are the tasks that require our immediate attention and also work towards fulfilling our long-term goals and missions in life.
Quadrant 1 tasks typically consist of crises, problems, or deadlines. Here are a few specific examples of Urgent and Important tasks:
- Certain emails (new business opportunity that requires immediate action, critical decisions, etc.)
- Tax deadline
- You have a heart attack and end up in the hospital
- Spouse in emergency room
- Car doesn’t start
- Household chores
- Child is in the principal’s office
With a bit of planning and organization, many Q1 tasks can be made more efficient or even eliminated. For example, instead of waiting until your check engine light goes on, you take it in for routine maintenance. You can do this with projects at home and at work. This will allow you to an urgent and important task into just an urgent (Quadrant 2) tasks so you can plan accordingly. You won’t be able to remove all urgent and important tasks but reducing them allows you to have more breathing room to be intentional about your time.
Quadrant 2: Not Urgent but Important Tasks
Quadrant 2 tasks are the activities that don’t have a pressing deadline, but help you achieve your important personal, and work goals as well as help you fulfill your overall mission. Q2 tasks are typically centered around strengthening relationships, planning for the future, and improving yourself.
Here are some specific examples of Not Urgent but Important Tasks:
- Weekly planning
- Long-term planning
- Family time
- Reading for Growth in all your life domains
- Taking a class to improve a skill
- Spending time with a rewarding hobby
- Date night with wife
- Creating a budget and savings plan
Stephen Covey stated we should seek to spend most of our time on Q2 activities, as they’re the ones that provide us lasting happiness, fulfillment, and success. Unfortunately, there are a couple of key challenges that keep us from investing enough time and energy into Q2 tasks:
- Q2 is where your time should be spent to achieve what truly is important to you. This is the intentional and productive quadrant to live an intentional life.
- Our default mode is to focus on what is pressing most. Without deadlines it can be hard to get energized to spend time here, but with your quarterly goals and weekly planning sheets it will be in your current state of mind. Make sure you practice the SMART discipline when setting goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-Bound).
Q2 activities can be kept on “the list” forever without deadlines and actions to back them up. They can sometimes be on the someday list especially with the urgent things that keep popping up. Living intentionally and proactively will allow you to attack this list and accomplish what you set out to do. You have to have to shift your mindset to I am going to this done by X vs. I hope to get this done by X. You need to commit then execute.
Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important Tasks
Quadrant 3 tasks are activities that require our attention now. They don’t help us achieve our goals or mission. Most of these activities are helping others achieve their goals and priorities. Examples of these are:
- Text messages
- Phone calls
- Most emails (some emails could be urgent and important)
- Unplanned guests or family that wants your help with a project or chore
- Favors from a co-worker who just stop by during high productivity time
- Request from friends to help them with a project, advice, or just meetings about minor things
Stephen Covey stated many people spend most of their time on Q3 tasks and think they are working in Q1. The deceiving part of Q3 activities are they feel important because you are helping others out. That is not a bad thing but need to be balanced with Q2 activities.
Spending too much time in Q3 will give you the allusion you are getting a lot done but the fact will be shown you are not accomplishing any of your long-term goals. This will leave you very frustrated and help others at the expense of your own.
Learn to say No and use your priority list that you now have to help you. When a request comes in, run it through your priority list to see which activity will take priority – this will be the YES to my priorities and NO to theirs.
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important Tasks
Quadrant 4 activities aren’t urgent and aren’t important. They don’t help you achieve your long-term goals or mission. Examples can be:
- Surfing the web for nothing
- Social Media browsing – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Watching TV
- Playing video games
- Shopping to kill time
If we are honest with ourselves, we spend too much time in Q4 activities. We all have those moments when we get sucked into TV for news or a show, or surfing the internet and find out we just blew 2 hours or a whole morning. We can’t eliminate these activities totally because sometimes these activities allow us to rest and regroup. The goal is to spend less than 5% of your waking hours in this Q4.
Filtering out everything coming our way is a new talent we have to develop further. We historically didn’t have to have so we must actively work on intentional filtering of all the noise.
Spending most of your time in Q2 (Not Urgent but Important) activities will energize you give you a sense of peace, control, and feeling of achievement. This will allow you to own your life and make real progress with the things you identified as important and a priority to you. Always be careful other people’s priorities don’t become yours.
- Read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Define your priorities
Practice planning your activities and running them through the decision making matrix.
Good luck and work on staying in Quadrant 2!!!