Discipline: Urgent vs Important

Our challenge is not to manage time but to manage ourselves.

We can define an activity by two factors:  urgent and important.  Urgent tasks require immediate attention.  They press on us and insist on action.  Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results.  If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals.  Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity.

Quadrant I is both urgent and important.  It deals with significant results that require immediate attention.  We usually call the activities “crises” or “problems.” Some people are beaten up by problems all day, every day.  The only relief they have is escaping to the not important, not urgent activities of Quadrant IV.

Other people spend a great deal of time in “urgent, but not important” Quadrant III, thinking they’re in Quadrant I.  They spend most of their time reacting to urgent things, assuming they are also important.  But the reality is that the urgency of these matters is often based on others’ priorities and expectations.  

Effective people stay out of Quadrants III and IV because urgent or not; they are not important.  They also shrink Quadrant I down and spend more time in Quadrant II.

Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management.  It deals with things that are not urgent but are important.  It deals with building relationships, writing a personal mission statement, long-range planning, exercising, preventive maintenance, and preparation — all those things we know we need to do but somehow seldom get around to doing because they aren’t urgent.

The way you spend your time results from the way you see your time and priorities.  The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.

An excerpt from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People