Time Management - Urgency/Importance Grid

The Urgency/Importance Grid is one of those simple time management tools that require nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper. Simply draw and label a grid like the one shown below. Then prioritize each of your outstanding tasks on it according to its relative urgency and importance.

Urgency/Importance Grid

Obviously this is not an exact science and represents a subjective judgment on your part. However, the resulting completed grid can be a significant aid to helping you prioritize tasks and avoid the common pitfall of confusing urgency with importance.

Whilst many factors can change to make any one of your activities more or less important, time is not one of them. An unimportant job remains unimportant, even if the deadline for delivery is in an hour's time. As you receive new tasks, you will revisit your grid, adding in the new task appropriately. This may mean that the urgency or importance of another task may be altered as a result of the new task.

Urgent but Unimportant Tasks
You should put tasks here that are fairly urgent but relatively low in importance. It is easy to find yourself spending too much time on these tasks because of their urgency. Ideally they should be completed adequately, but above all quickly.

Ask yourself the following questions:

'How can I avoid spending too much time on these tasks?'
'Is this a task I could delegate?'
'Does anyone have the appropriate skills?'

Non-Urgent and Unimportant Tasks
You should put tasks here that are neither important, nor urgent. These tasks represent a particular danger, because if you reduce the time spent completing them, you may find that you enjoy your working day less. If some of these tasks involve interacting with others, then you may feel that reducing the time spent will distance you from your co-workers.

If you really want to manage your time effectively, you will need to be disciplined enough to eliminate some of the things that make your work more enjoyable in the short term and focus on your own long-term personal development and promotion. This may mean that you need to persevere in the face of resistance from colleagues.

Ask yourself:

'How can I avoid the temptation to do these easy or enjoyable tasks?'
'Does this task further my long-term aspirations?'

Urgent and Important Tasks
Tasks that appear here should be both urgent and important. The danger is that you fail to properly plan these tasks because of their urgency and then crisis-manage them because of the pressure you're under to complete them.

Tasks that are both urgent and important require immediate attention. Suppose, for example, that an important customer needs a detailed proposal on their desk for Monday morning. This may require you to re-arrange existing commitments and prioritize work on the proposal; you may decide to concentrate on the key parts of the document whilst delegating more straightforward parts of it to others.

Ask yourself:

'How can I give myself enough time to do these tasks well?'
'Which of my activities can I re-arrange without any adverse effects?'
'Can I delegate some of my other tasks that are preventing me from working on this one?'

Important but Non-Urgent Tasks
Tasks that appear here should be important but not urgent. They may have no specific deadline, or a deadline that is a long way off. If there is no deadline, you may never get around to them, or you may wait until the deadline is very close and resort to crisis management to get them done.

Tasks that are important but not urgent are in danger of being deferred. Critical functions that relate to long-term effectiveness, such as strategic planning and progress reviews, often fall into this category. It is often the non-urgent nature of these tasks, combined with the slightly daunting prospect of tackling them, that leads to them being constantly delayed.

Take control of these tasks; set aside time to address them and break them down into manageable chunks.

You may also be interested in:
Time Management Productivity Tools | ABC Analysis | Pareto Analysis | Reverse Schedule | Closed To Do List | Calendar Tools | To Do List Tools | Launcher and HotKey Tools | Monitoring Tools | Productivity Tools.

Key Points

  • An Urgency/Importance Grid is a quick and easy way to help you prioritize tasks.
  • Even though the placement of tasks on the grid is highly subjective, it is often better than just looking at a list of tasks.
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