Urgent Important

So much to do, so little time…

I find that often my “to-do” list grows faster than I can cross things off. I have experienced weeks where there were so many fires to put out, I didn’t even touch my “to-do” list! This feeling of not being able to accomplish what I set out to do is stressful. So how do you decide how to prioritize what should get done first, when some of it should have been done yesterday?!

One way of approaching the problem of deciding what to focus on is Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle used by well-known author Steven Covey. As the name implies, assessing the urgency and importance of each task helps to determine the priority level. There are four categories that can be assigned to each task:

  1. Urgent and Important – tasks that fall into this category are necessary to help us meet our goals, whether they be personal or work-related, and they are time sensitive.
  2. Important and Not Urgent – this category includes tasks that will help you to achieve your goals, but there is not a hard deadline. These tasks may become urgent, so don’t push them off for too long.
  3. Urgent and Not Important – these tasks are time sensitive but may prevent you from meeting your goals because they take time away from the more important tasks. Postponing or delegating are great options for things that fall in this category.
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important – this category represents the “like to do” or “when I have time” tasks that will not explicitly aid you in reaching your goals, and there is no deadline for these items either. These tasks are more of a distraction in accomplishing your goals, but you should still be aware of them in case something changes and they become important or urgent.

In addition to the level of urgency and importance, I often find myself deciding priority level based on the difficulty in completing a project. I previously attended a training during which the instructor introduced the concept of the “8-hour work week”, suggesting you prioritize your work based on only having 8 hours to work with your client/boss/mentor. He recommended that rather than starting with tasks that would be faster and easier to complete (as is the tendency for many), you should start with the most difficult tasks first. These difficult tasks are the ones that would likely also fall in the “Urgent and Important” category, and would need the input of others. Once the difficult tasks have been fulfilled, you move on to the smaller tasks, gaining momentum as you are able to cross more and more off of your list. Moving from difficult to easy creates a snowball effect and can really give you a feeling of accomplishment.

However you decide to prioritize, it is important to have open communication with all involved to ensure that everyone is on the same page and expectations are clear.

About the Author
Amanda Bullock is a consultant with Morrison, working primarily in our Business & Accounting Advisory practice. To get in touch with Amanda, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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