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Not Everything Is Urgent and Important
A simple method can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed, get clarity and navigate your different tasks easily
Originally, I learned about this method back at college, and it actually comes from personal development/self-help, not from product management, unlike other tools and tips I shared so far. However, it’s been useful both in my work as a product manager, and my personal life.
Eisenhower Matrix (Stephen Covey Matrix)
Eisenhower Matrix, also known as Stephen Covey Matrix is a very simple but powerful method to organize tasks based on their importance and urgency.
It was developed by a military officer and statesman Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower, and popularized in the 1990's book First Things First, written by Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill.
Moving Beyond Urgency
To use the Stephen Covey Matrix, you need to divide your tasks into four quadrants based on importance and urgency. This way, you can get urgent and important; urgent but not important; not urgent but important; and neither urgent nor urgent.
Urgent and important: These tasks require your immediate attention and have a significant impact on your goals and priorities. Some examples include important deadlines, high-priority emergencies, important exams, or important meetings.
Important but not urgent: These tasks are essential for achieving your long-term goals but do not require immediate attention. Examples would be strategic planning, long-term projects, personal development, and relationship-building.
Urgent but not important: These tasks demand your immediate attention but they have little to no impact on your long-term goals. Examples are interruptions, unimportant calls, messages, and meetings, or minor issues.
Neither urgent nor important: These tasks don’t require immediate attention and have little to no impact on your long-term goals. Examples include time-wasting activities and trivial tasks.
Why this matters
Without understanding both the importance and urgency of our options, we can feel overwhelmed; continuously neglect important, but not urgent items; and overall ‘lose the compass’.
Personally, even when I visually don’t sort my tasks ‘on paper’ (screen), I try and always have this division on my mind: is this important to me? do I have to do it right away? could this wait?
Some recommended steps to take
Based on where the tasks fit on the matrix, there’s a suggested course of action in the method. You could do, plan, delegate, or eliminate them. Of course, the world is not black and white, and we’ll never achieve the perfect state of only working on important things – but it is important to be mindful and strive to focus our attention and energy properly.
There will always be fires and emergencies, distractions, and time-wasting stuff, but the awareness of where different items fall is the first step towards more balance. Note the word balance, as we also need some time-wasters and it’s ok to cut yourself some slack and wind down a bit.
Lastly, it’s been 30 years since the 90’s. In the world of ChatGPT, robotic process automation, and integrated systems, we have some additional options in our toolkit, so you can not only delegate… but automate. 🤖
Wish you a week filled with not only important but also joyful tasks!
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