Eisenhower: How to distinguish between urgent and important tasks

It’s an all too well-known workplace fallacy, people think that working late every night to make sure everything is done, is great time management. However, if you are spending your free time in the office, working your way through every task that comes across your desk, you may be experiencing a problem with prioritisation.

Great leaders don’t hoard all of the important work for themselves; they delegate tasks and give their employees opportunities to shine.

It can be difficult to know what to delegate though, and what to tackle yourself. The key to this is to learn the difference between urgent tasks, and important tasks. Using these to define the tasks on your to-do list, it becomes much easier to decide what to do, what to delegate, what to delay and what to ignore.

Urgency

Urgency refers to a time constraint. If something is urgent, it has an upcoming deadline, usually within hours or days. It might be something that needs to be done by the end of the day. Unfortunately, the language of ‘urgent’ can grab our attention and pull our focus to tasks that seem important because of their deadline, but actually, cause us to do nothing productive during our working hours.

Importance

Importance refers to you, and your professional goals. Just because something is important to someone else, doesn’t make it an important task. If something is important, undertaking it will move the needle on your projects or move you closer to your career goals.

Prioritisation

Using these definitions, all tasks can be neatly categorised into four: Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important, Not Urgent and Important, Not Urgent and Not Important. Tasks that are both urgent and important should be prioritised. Tasks that are urgent but not important can be delegated. Tasks that are not urgent but are important can be scheduled for later and finally, tasks that are neither urgent nor important can be ignored.

By being honest with yourself about the urgency and importance of a task, you can schedule your time much more effectively and get the most out of your work hours.