Our former President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed a way to set priorities so he could manage his time more effectively. He thought of his priorities as being either "important" or "urgent".
Important priorities are the tasks that help you achieve your goals, and urgent priorities are requested by others.
He said, "I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."
Let's say your boss asked for a report. That's an urgent priority because it relates to one of their goals. And it feels more urgent because there's some negative consequences if you don't handle it right away.
So your to-do list is made up of 'important' and “urgent “priorities, and you have to decide which ones to tackle first. Sometimes your tasks are both urgent and important.
President Eisenhower created a decision-making matrix to guide his choices, and here's how it worked -
- If a priority was important “and” urgent, he'd do it right away!
- If it was important but “not urgent”, he'd plan time to do it.
- If it was not important but it was urgent, he'd try to “delegate the task”.
- And if it was not important and not urgent, he just wouldn't worry about it.
This is a really good way for you to think about your to-do list.
A few coaching points to keep in mind.
- You have to focus to make good decisions. You can't think critically while you're multitasking, so you have to set aside “time” to decide how you're going to “allocate your time”. A good time to do this is at the end of each day because you can reflect on that day's accomplishments, and that puts you in a better frame of mind.
- Try to block 30-minutes each morning and afternoon for the important and urgent tasks that just pop up, because they always will! You want to handle the important and urgent stuff early in the day because you don't want them bleeding over until tomorrow. And
- Learn how to say "no". If something isn't important but it's urgent, it's probably coming from somebody else.
Steve Jobs said, "Focus is about learning how to say 'no'." It's hard to say "no" to the boss, but urgent requests usually come from co-workers and your staff, and they often have false deadlines.
Be clear as to what you can and can't get to, and don't overcommit. You want to be responsive, but you don't want to be held hostage by other people's deadlines.
And remember this - “time management” is a fallacy. You can’t manage time! There are only 24-hours in a day, and 60-minutes in an hour. You can’t move time around, you can only manage your focus.