If you’re part of the corporate rat race, you’d probably be familiar with the proverbial firefighting exercise at the workplace.
Yes, I’m referring to the days when you race against the clock to battle a never-ending onslaught of crises with no end in sight.
“Welcome to the world of Murphy’s law”, your co-workers may say half in earnest and half in jest. With a hint of schadenfreude, no less.
And when the dust settles, you feel completely exhausted but at the same time, you get this sinking and surreal feeling that you didn’t accomplish anything significant after all.
There is one possible explanation for this: you’re not distinguishing between urgent tasks and important tasks and prioritising them.
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower’s famous quote inspired the ‘Eisenhower Matrix’ or the ‘Urgent Important Matrix’ which serves as a prioritisation tool to help us evaluate our tasks and place them in four discrete categories:
Category 1: Important and urgent
Category 2: Important but not urgent
Category 3: Urgent but not important
Category 4: Not urgent and not important
Category 1 tasks (important and urgent) would include medical emergencies, fires (literally), client complaints and email outages, to name a few. These tasks require immediate attention as they directly impact your well-being and that of your organisation. Place these tasks on the top of your to-do list.
Category 2 tasks (important but not urgent) would include training (e.g. attending relevant courses), setting corporate goals (e.g. corporate retreat) and system upgrades (e.g. updating IT infrastructure). These tasks are critical to long-term success, and time and resources should be allocated accordingly. It is also important to set an end date for these tasks.
Category 3 tasks (urgent but not important) would include attending non-critical vendor meetings, answering phone calls from advertising salespersons and replying non-critical emails. Where possible, these tasks should either be delegated to other staff (depending on their bandwidth) or postponed to a later date. It is worth noting that these tasks are usually more important to others than to yourself, and it’s best to politely reject these tasks if they continue to pop up.
Category 4 tasks (not urgent and not important) should be avoided completely. Examples of such tasks would be busy work (meaning paperwork), sorting junk mail, partaking in social media chatter, online shopping and answering random surveys. These tasks are essentially timewasters and while they should be eliminated during working hours, it’s perfectly fine to do so during your free time if it helps you to unwind.
Be it at the workplace or in your personal life, it certainly takes dedication and discipline to follow through with the Eisenhower Matrix as the benefits may not be immediately apparent.
From my experience, I have found that taking a long-term and goal-oriented approach in prioritising my tasks pays dividends in the long run. Prioritising Category 2 tasks over Category 3 & 4 tasks has not only increased my productivity and focus but has also prevented many Category 1 tasks from surfacing in the first place!
Now get back to work! 😊