Time Management – Important vs. Urgent Tasks

Good time management results in the effective and efficient use of one’s time, and reminds us that: many tasks are important, but not all are urgent.  

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Time pressure is a prevalent source of stress both at college and in the world of work – it is the result of having too much to do, and not enough time to do it all in. The Eisenhower Principle is a prioritization method which allows for the categorization of tasks in a straightforward, no gray areas manner. The principle helps you consider your priorities and then decide which tasks are essential (or important) and which are distractions.

However, before we can continue, we first need to understand the difference between what it means for something to be “important” and for it to be “urgent” – the authors at Mind Tools have defined it well:

Important activities have an outcome that leads us to achieving our goals, whether they are professional or personal. 

Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.”

According to the Eisenhower Principle tasks fall into one of four categories:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Not Urgent but Important
  • Not Important but Urgent
  • Not Important and Not Urgent

Each category is then assigned a recommended plan of action:

  • Important and Urgent – Do it now.
  • Not Urgent but Important – Decide on when to schedule it in.
  • Not Important but Urgent – Delegate it to someone else.
  • Not Important and Not Urgent – Delete it.

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How to Apply the Eisenhower Principle

The application of the Eisenhower Principle is quite simple provided you are able to make a decision regarding the categorization of tasks, and then stick to it.

STEP 1: Select a task and decide whether or not it is urgent. This will help you in deciding whether immediate action is necessary or not.

STEP 2: Using the same task as for Step 1, decide whether it is important or not. This will help you decide whether it is something you need to do yourself, or whether it can be delegated to someone else.

Priority 1 Tasks

priority-1These are tasks that are both urgent and important. These tasks need to be seen to immediately and by you personally. They will be assigned the highest priority on your to-do list.

However, if you are spending the majority of your time on these types of tasks, you are being reactive, rather than planning your work and actions ahead of time.

Priority 2 Tasks

priority-2

These are tasks that are important but not urgent; they need to be attended to personally but not immediately, so you need to schedule in time to address them. It is helpful to assign these types of tasks a beginning and end date – this will also help you with assigning them a priority rating on your to-do list.

Ideally, most of your tasks should fall under Priority 2 tasks.

Priority 3 Tasks

priority-3

These tasks are urgent but not important, so they require immediate attention but not necessarily from you. These tasks are usually someone else’s priority, not your own. If at all possible, delegate these tasks to someone else, or decide whether they are in fact a Priority 4 task.

Priority 4 Tasks

priority-4

These are tasks that are neither important nor urgent, and so are mostly a waste of your time. These tasks should be dropped as they add no value to your productivity.

How Does Eisenhower Fit Into This?

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The story goes, that in a speech in 1954, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower quoted the president of a U.S. university when he said:

“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

This is apparently how President Eisenhower arranged and managed his workload and priorities…thus, becoming the Eisenhower Principle.


 References:

Eisenhower’s Urgent / Important Principle: Using Time Effectively, Not Just Efficiently. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_91.htm. [Accessed on: 21 February 2017].

The Eisenhower Method. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://thousandinsights.wordpress.com/articles/on-productivity/the-eisenhower-method/. [Accessed on: 21 February 2017].

 

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