Important vs. Urgent: How To Prioritise Your Time

20% of the average workday is spent on ‘crucial’ and ‘important’ things, while 80% of the average workday is spent on things that have ‘little value’ or ‘no value’. This is a statistic from research done by a time management expert in the United States, but it applies everywhere in the world. What is the difference […]

20% of the average workday is spent on ‘crucial’ and ‘important’ things, while 80% of the average workday is spent on things that have ‘little value’ or ‘no value’.

This is a statistic from research done by a time management expert in the United States, but it applies everywhere in the world.

What is the difference between ‘important’ and ‘urgent’? People often think that these words are synonymous but that’s not the case. ‘Important’ means ‘of great significance and value’ while ‘urgent’ means ‘requiring immediate action or attention’. Some things can be urgent and not important while some things are not urgent but are important.

Renowned author Stephen Covey (who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) wrote a time management book called First Things First. The book describes prioritising work that is classified as long-term goals at the expense of tasks that are supposedly urgent when they really are not that important. To aid his description, he used the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

Based on this matrix, you can see what should be important and urgent, not important but urgent, and so on. The quadrants are explained below:

Quadrant I: Urgent and important

This quadrant should only contain activities and responsibilities that require your immediate attention. It is reserved for extremely important deadlines and emergencies.

– Crises

– Pressing problems

– Projects that are deadline-driven

– Emergencies

– Last-minute preparations

Quadrant II: Not urgent but important

Items in this quadrant are those that do not have high urgency, but play an important role in the future. Be careful not to leave these to the last minute, otherwise they will fall in Quandrant I. These are:

– Your health

– Your relationships

– Training

– Recreation

Quadrant III: Urgent but not important

These items should be done right away. They are obstacles that stand between you and your goals. These are:

– Interruptions

– Meetings

– Distractions (phone calls, etc.)

Quadrant IV: Neither urgent nor important

These items should be dropped. They do not contribute any value to your life. These are:

– Trivia

– Busy work

– Time-wasters (surfing the Internet without purpose, watching TV for hours)

The matrix can be applied as a tool that helps you to reprioritise the importance and urgency of your current and upcoming tasks. By sorting the tasks and responsibilities into the appropriate quadrant you will be able to quickly identify activities that need your immediate attention.

There are 24 hours in a day, make them count.