And what to do first.
“Understanding how to work within the battle between urgent and important is essential…”
Every morning, walking into my office, I would fear what came in overnight. Working in an environment where we would have customers call in and email intentionally after hours would regularly wear me down. And in most instances, their contacts would be a “big deal” and they would need “immediate” attention.
Couple this with mail from the day before, and any file reviews my supervisors would drop into my workload before I made it into the office, I could easily spend all day addressing all of these “urgent” tasks.
And that is exactly what I would do. I would get to work and address the fires of my job first, spending hours trying to do all of this work, and you know what it would get me?
When I spent hours working on these urgent tasks which were not important to my job, I would fall behind. And after a while, I would be in a state where there was no chance of getting caught up.
But all that changed when I learned one important productivity technique.
The Eisenhower Matrix
For most of us, the battle between urgent and important is a balance of learning when and how to do the urgent work we are faced with on a regular basis. And while we agree that the important work comes first, how do we work our way through urgent work.
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Eisenhower Matrix is essentially four quadrants which break down as follows: Important and Urgent, Important and not Urgent, Urgent but not Important, Not important and not Urgent.
These can help us to decide what is most important, how to do it, and when to do it. And they are essential for getting our work done.
The ultimate priority here is to work mostly out of the important work and lease out of the urgent work. And the Eisenhower Matrix is how we learn to do this and do it well. When we are using this tool well, we end up winning time back into our schedule, experiencing peace throughout the day, and gain an overall sense of productivity.
Using this tool enables us to work on the important work which reduces our workloads and keeps us in control of our work. With this resource, we don’t let urgent take control.
“We are in control of our work when we focus on the important work and identify the places urgent work is trying to take control.”
How to Effectively Use the Eisenhower Matrix
We know what important work is. Now we need to better understand what the urgent work is and prioritize that work in the right order. Below you will find how to use the Eisenhower Matrix so you can get your work done and experience productivity success.
Number One: Important and Urgent
In this quadrant, we are considering the important 20% work which is urgently calling you. This might be a deadline or an outside influence which is bringing this work to the forefront. The quadrant is the number one priority because it is work which we need to do, and it could help us to get to our goal faster.
This is work you should do first thing. And then the other quadrants come after.
Number Two: Important and Not Urgent
This part of the matrix focuses on our important work, which isn’t knocking down the door of your workload. This is in fact, the area we need to be spending most of our time working. When we are focusing on the important and not urgent work, this is how we get to our end goal.
This is the work we do after the important and urgent work.
Number Three: Urgent and Not Important
These are the “fires” which seem to always take precedence in our work, even when they don’t actually contribute to getting to our end goal. Most people actually work out of this quadrant, but it should be the last place we focus on when it comes to getting our work done.
This work comes after all other important work.
Number Four: Not important and Not Urgent
You might be thinking, “When should we do this work? Or is there a point to this work?” Yes. There is a point to it, but sometimes, there are aspects of our jobs which are not important and not urgent. And these aspects come last, or should not be done altogether.
When should we do these tasks?
When all other work is completed. And NEVER before your important work. These are the biggest time wasters and in some cases, they might have to be done at some point, but not when you have more important things to do.
Why Live Out of the Important and Not the Urgent
Our urgent work takes away from getting the things done which we need to be getting done in order to reach our end goal or product. When someone comes calling for something that isn’t important, it takes time away from completing the tasks which help us find success at work.
Going back to President Eisenhower’s quote:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower
When we work out of our important work, we are able to focus on getting things done and leaving those, which are less important until later. Not undone, just left for later. This is why we live in the important and not the urgent.
The Shift in My Work
After implementing the Eisenhower Matrix into my everyday workflow, something began to change. I began experiencing freedom at work with less stress. Once I stopped acting as if every urgent demand or request was the most important thing, especially when it wasn’t, I began to get caught up.
And as I started getting caught up, I began to get my work done early so I could work ahead. And once this happened, everything changed. I no longer struggled with work and productivity, and I knew what was important and what was urgent and taking up time for the important work.
This is how we get more done at work, we stop working out of the urgent tasks most, and start working out of the important task.
How do you focus on important work? Would you say you work out of the urgent or important work most of the time? Share in the responses below.