Is That Task Important or Merely Urgent?

I wrestle with this question everyday, if not several times a day. Most of the things pinging our brain for attention our merely urgent but often trivial.

In this brief, two-minute video clip, Behance founder and CEO Scott Belsky discusses how today often trumps tomorrow and what happens when it does. He then discusses how to distinguish between the urgent and the important.

Another great resource is Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First. In Chapter 3, “The Urgency Addiction,” he provides a framework for deciding whether or not a task is urgent, important or some combination thereof. Think of it as a 2 x 2 matrix:

Covey time management matrix 001 001

We should prioritize our daily task list by determining which quadrant it is in. For example,

  1. Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent. These tasks should be our first priority. They go at the top of your to-do list. They are important, and they must be done today.
  2. Quadrant 2: Important But Not Urgent. These are the “tomorrow” tasks that Scott speaks about. They should be our second priority, because if we don’t do them, we will face the consequences in the future.
  3. Quadrant 3: Urgent But Not Important. These are those tasks that are urgent to someone else, but they are not important to us. They should be our third priority. Frankly, much of the email we receive and social media falls into this quadrant.
  4. Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important. These should simply be deleted from our daily task list. They are simply a distraction that keeps us from accomplishing those items in the first two quadrants.

Years ago, I used to actually plan my day using Covey’s matrix. I no longer do that, but it has become second nature to me.

Update: One of my readers pointed me to the Priority Matrix for iPhone. It is a 99¢ app, which replicates Covey’s model. I’d love to see something like this as a web app or software app.

Question: How do you prioritize your daily task list? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to self-hosted WordPress? Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Pingback: #010: How to Shave 10 Hours Off Your Work Week [Podcast] | Michael Hyatt

  • Pingback: Beyond time management: Important, urgent, and the people you interact with | David De Wolf

  • Jo Rowe

    Knowing that I cannnot…just cannot leave whatever it is until tomorrow as tomorrow is another day and I might not be able to accomplish this very important and urgent task….which is what I must do now instead of responding to a number 4 task..!1

  • Pingback: 5 Ways To Get Your Brain Ready For School | mindful art studio

  • Pingback: Workforce Skills of the Future: Time Management & Triage

  • thedougout24

    I’ve recently started using this matrix to prioritize my weekly activities through my outlook calendar.  Once an activity is inserted into the calendar, I use the category feature to color code my events.  A “red” category is “Steak Sauce” or “important/urgent” (as Dave Ramsey mentioned in his book Entreleadership)…a “green” category is “important, but not urgent”…and a “yellow” category is “urgent, but not important” (basically…the tasks that I would delegate to someone else). 

    Since I do not plan to do things that are not urgent and not important, I have left that quadrant off the list.  The only other category that I use is “for information only” which may not require delegation, but could be something that I need a reminder of as having taken place (i.e. a meeting of upper management…which I am currently not! :).

  • Daniel Vogler

    This is so true. As artist and writer my business grows by (surprise) writing and painting, but most days I find myself spending 80% of the time with administrative tasks. I try to prioritize my daily todo list but tend to totally overload it. Maybe I should get a virtual assistant… does anyone have experience with that?