When it comes to our daily activities, we can easily find ourselves busy without truly accomplishing our goals. The Urgent/Important or Eisenhower Matrix, which we mentioned a few weeks ago in this article, is a fantastic tool that you can use to overcome the tendency to focus on urgent activities and accomplish what’s really important to you.

A Bit of History: President Eisenhower reportedly used this grid, with the philosophy that “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Stephen Covey popularized this philosophy and the grid in 1994, calling it the Urgent/Important Matrix in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

How to Use It:
1. List all your activities. Include everything you do habitually, even interruptions and distractions.
2. Assign importance to each activity on a scale of 1-5. Don’t worry about urgency at this point; it’ll come later. Remember that important activities build into the achievement of your overall goals.
3. Evaluate the urgency of your activities now. Plot items on the matrix according to importance and urgency. Urgent activities demand immediate attention and are often associated with others’ goals.
4. Use the following strategies to make the most of each section of the matrix.

Strategies for Success:

Quadrant I: Urgent & Important
– These are legitimate issues, deadlines, and crises that cannot be dealt with later without great negative consequences. Examples would include family emergencies, hard deadlines, angry clients, machine repair, and injured employees.
– Deal with these immediately, but remember that some of these issues (such as deadlines) become urgent due to procrastination.

 

Quadrant II: Not Urgent & Important
– These activities help you achieve your goals, and can include exercise, planning and preparation, building solid relationships, quality family time, empowering others, personal and career development, and spiritual growth.
– Allocate plenty of time for these so they don’t become urgent later. “Increasing time spent in this quadrant increases our ability to do so. Ignoring this quadrant feeds and enlarges Quadrant I, creating stress, burnout, and deeper crises for the person consumed by it. On the other hand, investing in this quadrant shrinks Quadrant I.” – Covey

Quadrant III: Urgent & Not Important
– These activities masquerade as Quadrant I activities because they seem urgent. In reality, they usually further others’ goals at your expense. Examples include off-topic phone calls, e-mails of low importance, and drop-in visitors.
– Eliminate as many of these activities as possible by delegating them to trusted individuals. If you can’t delegate, allocate specific times during which you’re available for these interruptions or hold a meeting during which all these items can be dealt with.

Quadrant IV: Not Urgent & Not Important
– Activities like junk e-mail, mindless web browsing, channel surfing, water cooler gossip, light addictive reading are the time-wasting activities in this category. These seem like recreation activities you’d place in Quadrant II, but they are unhealthy “cotton candy” time wasters. They feel good at first, they have no substance.
– The solution? Replace these with important or re-charging activities from Quadrant II like work, exercise, quality time with friends, reading a classic novel, prayer/meditation, or your favorite hobby.