Many people have an unfair complaint that they do not get enough time to do a lot of stuff that they would love to do. Now, when the President of a country says that, you would agree and say, “that’s a busy man”, but when someone among your friends says that, it doesn’t mean that he has very little time; it’s just that he has very little time management skills.
We have a tendency to get confused between urgent work and important work. When faced with a situation, where you have to choose between a task, which needs to be taken care of urgently, and a task that we understand is very important, we normally are caught unawares trying to figure out what is the priority here.
Urgent tasks like taking printouts or forwarding emails could take your attention and take the focus off from important things. Similarly, saying that you are busy with an important meeting when your boss is waiting on the line to have a conversation with you is also not a pleasant priority to have.
Learning how to compartmentalize these two different sorts of work into our daily routine, so that our urgent tasks do not overlap with important ones and vice versa is the core of time management concepts.
Time Management Matrix
Eisenhower has clearly defined the difference between an urgent task and an important task. This definition is now, considered, the cornerstone of an important classification in time-related jobs.
According to him, urgent tasks are those that gets things into motion and sets a person into action, either mental or physical, immediately. This includes urgent calls, emails, meetings, huddles, getting into a train, replying to abusive messages, etc.
On the other hand, important tasks are those that disclose their value in the long run. They are things that take time to deliver and need mature, relaxed and comprehensive thinking. The reason it takes time to deliver is that it involves many parameters that demand equal time and thought. The emphasis here is on the quality of the action’s result.
Compared to this, an urgent action calls for some very specific and limited actions, as the focus is less on quality and more on completing it in a limited time-frame.
There are situations where an important work could also be an urgent work, however, in an ideal working environment, this is a rare situation.
Keeping this in mind, the tasks can be arranged in a quadrant called the “Urgent vs. Important Quadrant”. According to this, tasks can be divided into four kinds −
- Quadrant-1 = Urgent and Important Task
- Quadrant-2 = Urgent and not important Task
- Quadrant-3 = Not urgent and important Task
- Quadrant-4 = Not urgent and not important Task
Quadrant-1 − defines tasks that are not only very critical but also need to be done in a period. Handling a crisis situation, disaster management, meeting project deadlines are tasks that stress on high quality output in a tight time-frame.
Quadrant-2 − defines those tasks that might be needed in a short time but might not be important. Tasks like catching the earliest bus on a Friday night, replying to a text message as soon as we get one, making a phone call to colleagues, forwarding emails are urgent but the result need not be too high in quality.
Quadrant-3 − defines tasks that might not be urgent but are very important. Examples like relationship building, strategic planning take a lot of time to be implemented, but are very important.
Quadrant-4 − defines those tasks that are neither urgent, nor important. These include tasks like chatting with friends, gossiping over irrelevant material. They are the real waste of time. Many times, when we say we don’t have time to do things that are classified under Quadrants-1, 2, 3 only because they are busy in tasks under quadrant-4.