Important, Urgent – the art of prioritizing

Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was released in 1989 and Krishnan and I read it in 1991. Ever since, it has been a book that we refer to constantly. We have used it in training programs, coaching engagements and in everyday life.

One of the most powerful frameworks that the book offers is to convert a To-Do list into a powerful four blocker (Important, Urgent, Not Important, Not Urgent) prioritizing tool. Here’s a picture downloaded from an interesting article that mentions this four blocker.

The Forbes article that I took this picture from is – Level 5 Time Management: Beyond Stephen R. Covey And Ben Franklin.

Important and Urgent

The four blocker is the best time management and prioritization tool created thus far ! It helps you to identify what tasks on your endless To-Do list are Important and Urgent and Important and Not Urgent, so that you can get to these first. Often quadrant four – the Not Important and Not Urgent activities take away all the time because they are easy, probably fun and give you the feeling of being busy.

At the end of the day, one often feels nothing got done and the day has gone by. That happens because we spend the entire day in quadrant 4.

This came up in a very funny and personal way yesterday during my mentoring conversation. I had asked my Mentee to classify her To-Do list into just two quadrants initially, Urgent and Important. She had done it for a few days and then other things came up, so the practise fell off. Yesterday on the call, I asked her to take 5 minutes and distribute her To-Do list into these four quadrants.

My Mentee had 11 tasks on her To-Do list for the day. She burst out laughing when I asked her how many of those 11 tasks had she put into quadrant 4 (Not Important Not Urgent). She just managed to say 7 before bursting into laughter again. Both of us kept laughing for some time because this simple exercise made her day look great again :):).

My Mentee had been spending time on Not Important, Not Urgent items and was feeling like she wasn’t moving forward at all. This isn’t just her, all of us do the same. We watch a TV soap that can be recorded and watched later without the annoying adverts, while we should have been doing Important work. I have missed refilling groceries on one Sunday and tried blaming Mom or Krishnan when things ran out :).

Start your day by filling out this simple grid and focussing on Q1, Q2 and Q3 as the order of priority. I do that on most days like today. This blog is a result of stepping away from the living room and sitting down at my desk and writing it.

Do read my earlier posts – The trap of “busy-ness” and Have no regrets in the end …

3 thoughts on “Important, Urgent – the art of prioritizing”

  1. Bindu,
    Great ideas, in theory, but where do you place the fire ant crawling up your leg when you’re chopping vegetables for lunch? Murdering one fire ant leads to the trail of fire ants that have found the cat food, while the stray cat I feed is stalking the wild birds I feed and my newest little chick. Meanwhile said chick is busy eating toilet paper when she can snatch it out of my pocket.

    My permanent priority is to stay focused in the Now, because the Now is always the most urgent moment of the day.


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