Time Management for Managers: Urgent vs Important

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As a new manager, you are probably adding considerably to your own stress level by confusing the two ideas of urgency and importance. In his seminal book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Steven Covey gave us a four quadrant matrix, which is still very helpful today. Let me take you through the four quadrants and talk about the differences.

Quadrant: important and urgent

Of course, I can't tell what falls into that quadrant for you, in your managerial position, but you can. Take a look at the tasks on your daily to do list right now, and ask yourself: is this important and is it urgent? Urgent tasks tend to automatically add stress, and they also tend to take a high priority in your work day whether that is warranted or not.

Quadrant 2: important but not urgent

An item in this quadrant might be an important report, for example, that you need to produce. But you don't have to do it for the next two to three weeks, so it's not urgent — yet.

Quadrant 3: urgent but not important

This is where all the unnecessary stress lies! Just because it's urgent to somebody else doesn't automatically make it important to you. This is where we take on other people's priorities, where we try to catch the balls others have dropped. Be very careful about how much of your work falls into this quadrant.

Quadrant 4: not important and not urgent

Take a good look at those. Sometimes someone will create and submit a report regularly for many years, and nobody stops to realize it no longer has any relevance or importance! So you may be still doing it, but it's not important and it's not urgent. If you suspect that's the case, discuss it with the person you are submitting it to and find out if there's a better way of conveying the information.

The fact is that if it's in this quadrant, if it's not important and it's not urgent, you should stop doing it!

Some people believe most of your efforts should go into the tasks in Quadrant 1, but I disagree with that. I like to see most of my activities fall into segment 2: important but not urgent. If that important report isn't due for another two or three weeks, I have time now to do it properly and to give it the effort that it requires without going into a panic because it's urgent. So if you concentrate your time and effort here, many things will never get to Quadrant 1 because they'll be done before they become urgent — and as a manager, that's the way you want it.

So look at your current to do list and put each item in one of these quadrants. Do this every day and it will help you to distinguish between the importance and the urgency of everything on your list. That in turn will help you get the important things done on time, and greatly reduce your stress level.

About the Author:

Helen Wilkie is a professional keynote speaker, workshop leader and Official Guide for The Manager's Journey http://www.themanagersjourney.com . For more on time management for managers, visit http://tipsfornewmanagers.com

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