Although this method was made popular by Stephen Covey in his book “First Things First”, the concept is originally credited to US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, pictured right.
Whenever confronted with something that needed to be done, he would ask himself two questions. First, is the task important? Second, is it urgent?
Based on this, the task would end up in one of four categories:
Urgent and Important – for example the kitchen catching fire, a deadline to submit tax reports, a baby crying
Not Urgent and Important – doing exercises, long term planning, working on a project
Urgent and Not Important – various interruptions, facebook updates (not that Eisenhower used Facebook at his time), dealing with annoying people
Not Urgent and Not Important – activities that just waste time, procrastination, checking the latest lolcats, the wikipedia time-sucking hole, etc
The Four Quadrants
These categories are commonly visualised as the quadrants shown on the right.
The order in which you fulfill the tasks is important. As you only have a limited amount of time every day and can’t possibly do everything, it is important to prioritize the tasks you must do.
Obviously the first priority goes to the tasks that are Important and Urgent. That’s clear. However what is not so obvious is that tasks labelled Important and Not Urgent get the next priority.
Eisenhower himself is quoted as saying:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” He couldn’t have been more right.
Without the matrix in sight, people often forget this and tend to rush to deal with all the Urgent and Not Important tasks at hand, pushing the important, but not urgent ones somewhere into the far future.
This is when you know you should be working on a project, but instead end up checking Facebook, reading that really really urgent e-mail from a friend with a hilarious youtube video or chatting about plans for the weekend on Skype....
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