Research confirms that we’re not skilled at setting and following through on our priorities. Not a shocker, but sad nevertheless.
Let’s look at an average workday — We’re hit by an onslaught of customer issues, deadlines, meeting marathons, endless emails, slack messages, Jira tickets, salesforce chatter, Twitter notifications, LinkedIn posts, and everything else in between.
How on earth do we prioritize what type of tasks deserve our attention?
Here’s an oldie but a goodie solution to prioritizing our days.
First, we need to start by understanding the difference between an “urgent task” and an “important task“.
Urgent tasks typically come with deadlines and by their very nature, end up sucking our time and energy. (Customer complaints, last-minute requests from your boss, budget overspends, etc.). Most of us end up dropping everything we’re doing and diverting our attention to them.
Important tasks rarely come with deadlines. The lack of time-pressure to complete them makes us procrastinate and de-prioritize them. Examples include: scheduling regular thinking time on your calendar, attending training sessions, reading the latest industry trends, or mentoring a junior employee.
Most of our tasks are a combination of urgent and important or lack thereof. A good way to prioritize your day is by mapping your tasks on the 2 X 2 matrix below. (Download images if the following doesn’t render)
Hierarchy of tasks:
Once you’ve taken a stab at plotting your daily tasks, start attacking them in the following order:
1 – Important & urgent
Start with this task, take care of it as soon as you can, and get it out the door.
2- Important but not urgent
You’ll have to impose self-discipline to start working on these. We tend to believe that a task that doesn’t come with a deadline is somehow not worthy of our time. This thinking is counter-productive. In fact, it’s actually these types of tasks that enhance our productivity and help us succeed in the long run. Schedule time for these tasks and protect them with everything you’ve got.
3- Not important but urgent
You’ll be tempted to work on this task simply because it comes with a time-stamp. These tasks tend to produce a lot of anxiety. They include things like emails and attending unnecessary meetings or running reports that have no value to anyone. These are the tasks that put us into constant “reply mode.”
I encourage you to question their actual level of urgency to get to the root of the problem.
4- Not important, not urgent
Now I know this one doesn’t need an explanation, however, all of us are guilty here. Cat videos anyone? I do believe there’s a time and place for these types of tasks and sometimes we need a little bit of “slack-time” to get us back on track.
Once you’re able to plot your tasks in the appropriate quadrant, you’re going to realize, you can save a lot of time and energy by prioritizing tasks that produce actual value as opposed to prioritizing tasks just because they come with a deadline.
Everyone struggles with balancing important and urgent tasks, if you don’t believe me, here’s a direct quote from the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”