Tools to make you THINK differently about your business  

The Urgent-Important Matrix, is a great quick and dirty tool… my weekly (handwritten) “to do” sheet is organised using these ideas, as, apparently, there is something about handwriting something that makes your brain retain things better.  The objective of the framework is to help you decide on and prioritise tasks by both urgency and importance.  This makes it easier to sort things on your to-do list and to better manage your time. 

I’ve used the tool regularly for at least 25 years, but it was not until I began the research for this blog that I found it was actually invented by Eisenhower, the 34th US President and is also known by his name! Prior to becoming President, Eisenhower served in the US Army as a General and was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II.  As you can imagine, he must have had to make endless and continuous tough decisions about his time and the tasks he needed to execute …this led him to invent the principle which today helps us differentiate between urgency and importance.

How to use

Prioritising tasks by urgency and importance results in 4 quadrants each with different strategies:

Any tasks in the important and urgent quadrant are the do first, do now tasks.  These are the tasks that are important for your life and career and need to be done today, tomorrow at the latest.  These tasks might include:

  • Responding to an important request from a key customer
  • Supporting a staff member with a difficult decision

In the second quadrant are tasks that are important but not urgent.  These are the tasks we need to schedule. They are often the more strategic tasks; business planning, planning the new IT system, planning the office move; we find that these are the tasks that are often placed on the backburner because of the demands of the day-to-day.  These are the tasks that need to be planned now but done later.  These are the tasks that really drive the business forward.

Good time managers are good planners and they’ll always be attempting to manage most of their work in the second quadrant wherever possible moving urgent and important to-dos to a reasonable date in the near future whenever a new task comes in.  An approach which helps to reduce stress as “stuff” is planned in advance.

The third quadrant is made up of things that are not important but are urgent and if you are not very careful this can be where most of your day seems to go.  This is the busy fool quadrant.  The best way to deal with these tasks is to train others so they can be delegated.  They are less important to you than other tasks but still pretty urgent. Thereafter, it’s a case of keeping track of delegated tasks by e-mail, telephone or as part of a meeting to check on progress.

An example of a delegated task could be somebody calling you to ask for an urgent favour or request that you step into a meeting. You could delegate this responsibility by suggesting a better person for the job or by giving the caller the necessary information to have him deal with the matter themselves.

The final quadrant, the fourth quadrant is the “Don’t Do” quadrant and it’s there because it helps you to identify things you should not being doing at all!

  • Time management
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey

Downloadable resources

  • None
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