You’ve identified your actions, you have them written down. How do you decide what to do now? What is Important-Urgent?

There are many possible ways you can decide, in this article, we are going to look at The Eisenhower Matrix, often called the Important-Urgent matrix. This was named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He was continually having to make tough decisions about what he should concentrate on each day, and this led to the development of the Eisenhower Matrix.

What is the Important-Urgent matrix?

This is a simple 4 quadrant matrix. On the vertical axis, or up the side, you rate the Importance of the action. Along the horizontal axis, or along the bottom, you have the Urgency of your action. Now look at your actions and place them into one of the four quadrants based on the relative Importance and Urgency of the action.

Important-Urgent Matrix

Top Left Quadrant

These items are Important and Urgent. These are the actions that you MUST do.

You should aim to keep this quadrant as empty as possible. Items in here usually cause stress and lead to work that is rushed. It also leads to a lot of jumping between different actions and projects, which is an inefficient use of your time.

Urgent and Important things can just happen. If your Server is not responding, this immediately jumps straight into this quadrant. As soon as this emergency is addressed any followup actions may have a lesser Urgency or Importance and drop into one of the other quadrants.

This reactive quadrant can be an indicator of poor project planning or over-allocation of work to an individual. These are things that Next Actions can help you to work on.

Top Right Quadrant

These items are Important but Not Urgent. You should target 75% of your actions to fall into this category.

You should spend most of your time, once all Important-Urgent actions are done, working in this quadrant.

Items in this quadrant are planned and move you towards your goals and objectives. They are your platform for Getting Things Done.

Working in this quadrant you should feel you are satisfying your inner need to feel that you are doing things. You are being proactive, planning your work whilst also being open to new opportunities that may arise. You will be busy, but not feel overloaded.

Being in this quadrant means you are In Control. Next Actions can help you to get into this state, and offer you the tools and techniques that allow you to stand out from your peers and grow your potential.

Lower Left Quadrant

These are actions that are Not Important but are Urgent.

It is very easy, and not uncommon, for people to slip into working on items in this quadrant.  They believe that items in here need to be done as soon as possible. This is a mistake.  It results in items that are Important not being fulfilled.

An example, you have an Important action to write a sales proposal to a new client for a $100,000 contract. This is a Top Right quadrant task.

You also have an action to write-up the minutes of a meeting, and have been given a deadline of the end of the day today to do it.

Because you allow yourself to be driven by the deadline you concentrate on writing the minutes. This means you are not working on the sales proposal. The result of this is that the sales proposal then becomes Urgent, so you drop everything and quickly pull together a sub-par proposal. The client, on receiving this, thinks that you are not serious about his business and you lose the sales bid. But you did send out the minutes on time!

Items in this quadrant can be viewed in two ways

  • things you can delegate to others
  • things you can put off until a quiet time

Delegation

Briefly, delegating is a controlled way of passing off actions to do on your behalf. It is one of the best ways to grow your peers and direct reports, whilst ensuring that work moves forward.

Delegating will be covered in a future post.

Put Things Off

If something is not Important then it means that the impact of putting it off is minimal. One way to think of it is to ask yourself “who will die if I don’t do this now”.

In our example, the impact of not doing the sales proposal is the loss of a $100,000 contract and any future work from that client. What is the impact of not doing the minutes, people will have a wait a day or two to get them. Given that they were a summary of a meeting then there is nothing new they would have learned.

 

The impact of items in this quadrant can lead to you focusing on the wrong actions, slowing your progress on more Important work. It can also detract from the growth of others, as if you had delegated to them they would have grown in their skills and knowledge.

Lower Right Quadrant

These are actions that are neither Important nor Urgent.

Items in this quadrant can normally be ignored.  They do not contribute to moving you towards your goals and objectives.

There are times when it can be useful to dip into this pool and work on one of these items. If you are feeling very stressed after doing Important-Urgent actions, it can sometimes be beneficial to spend 5 minutes on a trivial action. This will allow you to reduce your current stress level, and refocus your attention on the next action you need to take.

Summary

It is important to make decisions about what you’re working on. It is also important to be able to make sure you are working on the right thing at the right time.

Try to spend the majority of your time working on items that are Important and Not Urgent. This will allow you make sure that your work does not become Important and Urgent, which leads to poor quality, rushed, work that will cost you business not enhance your business.

Use of this matrix allows you to focus your attention where it needs to be, and move you towards your goals, objectives, and personal growth.

 


Also published on Medium.