Here’s a useful model for working out what you should do and when.
To organize your time, start with the two easy quadrants:
- Important and urgent. These should scream out at you. It could be a crisis moment or a task that’s essential to your long-term career prospects or core business.
- Neither important nor urgent. These are tasks you should probably drop or delegate to someone else.
Next, turn to the trickier quadrants:
- Not important but urgent. Try to delegate these tasks or automate them. Over the short to medium term set up your work environment so that you can reduce the tasks in this bucket.
- Important but not urgent. The golden quadrant. This is where the big gains are made. These tasks are fiendishly difficult to set aside time for and are usefully the first tasks to be pushed to the bottom of your to-do list and dropped. Resist the temptation.
Watch out for
Keeping “busy”. We think we’re being productive when we’re bashing away at a keyboard, sending emails, answering rote customer queries, attending meetings without any action points. We’re not. We’re just putting off working in the golden quadrant. The opportunity cost of this “busy” work is that our long-term goals and aspirations are moving further into the future.
Procrastination. We often don’t attend to our long-term goals because we’re aiming for perfection and fear falling short of our own high expectations. A common antidote to this feeling is keeping “busy” and tackling urgent but not important tasks. The Mere Urgency Effect study shows how people favour tasks with very short-term deadlines because they’re likely to get more immediate, more certain payoffs.
We overestimate what we can achieve in a day. This mostly means the non-urgent tasks are pushed into tomorrow. Fortunately, we also tend to underestimate what we can achieve in a year, so dedicate some time each day to your long-term goals and compound your growth.
Boyes, A. (July 3, 2018). How to Focus on What’s Important, Not Just What’s Urgent. Harvard Business Review
Watkins, M. D. (March 31, 2007). The Urgent vs. The Important. Harvard Business Review