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Priority Matrix

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Priority Matrix | Important vs Urgent


Time is a finite resource. Never before has it been so important to manage your time. There is so much competing for our attention,making it easy to get sidetracked.  This exercise will help you identify your priorities.

Priority Matrix Grid:

This grid represents the four categories  of activity.  Download the worksheet and follow instructions. The worksheet takes you through an exercise to evaluate your daily activities. This is very helpful and will point out  those activities that may be complete time wasters or energy drains. These are the activities that keep people from their most important job.


Start by Defining Your Tasks:

Important can be defined as an activity that moves you toward your desired outcomes; personally or professionally. The consequences of not following through are not felt immediately and may take time to show up. The impact of ignoring these activities has a major impact and is often the difference between success and failure.

Urgent usually carries with it a need for immediate attention and is usually someone else’s agenda. The consequences of not following through can be immediate.

This is what many people confuse with “important” because of the immediate consequence. It takes up a lot of resources like time and energy, stealing from the future, and draining away creativity.

We will talk about each Quadrant individually. Quadrant two is highlighted in blue, and is at the heart of effective time management and leadership.

Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent

These activities consist of deadlines, problems, crises that carry significant impact and demand your immediate attention. This includes situations you could not have foreseen like health issues, certain crises in your industry along with activities that you did not plan for and “surprise” you.

For example, you “knew” about an inspection and missed the deadlines on your calendar, because you were too busy putting out fires and you end up surprised when they show up.

Because this quadrant carries high emotional energy, if you live here most of the time, you lose perspective. This is when you might escape into Quadrant 4, Not important and not urgent activities, to slow down your racing thoughts or high emotion.

Tip: Leave time in your day to accommodate a crisis.

Quadrant 2: Important. Not urgent.

This is where you want to spend most of your time. The more time you spend here, the less time you will spend in Quadrants 1 or 4.

With planning, many deadlines and crises can be eliminated. By spending time here, you will eliminate the procrastination that happens with the flight-or-fight reaction and the perpetual crisis mode of thinking that is prevalent when stressed.

Tip: Schedule in time, every day, to plan, think, and review. This is especially true when you feel busy.

Quadrant 3: Urgent. Not Important.

This is where many people spin their wheels. Because of the “urgency,” activities can be mistaken for important. Remember what we have said about distraction and the false sense of urgency that is created when focus is lost.

This is a category of activities that begs the question, “Can this be delegated or scheduled for a later date?”

These tasks usually come from someone else’s agenda and include returning certain phone calls, most emails, text, and requests from staff and family members. These activities can be planned for and then will carry the priority based on your daily calendar.


  1. Plan ahead for those staff requests to talk about issues.

There are usually one or two individuals who seem to want more of your time. Plan for this and meet regularly with them; learn to set boundaries when they approach you, schedule their requests so you stay in charge of how you spend your time/energy.

  1. Learn to delegate and follow up.

Make it a goal to reduce the time you spend in this quadrant and give this time to Quadrant 2.

Quadrant 4: Not urgent. Not important.

This quadrant is where people go to waste time. It could be because they do not know what is important or because they do not care. This is not the category for unwinding that is Quadrant 2.

Mindless activity, goofing off, gossip, searching the Internet, and scrolling through social media under the guise of research not only waste the organization’s time, they squander your own career capital because they drain confidence and energy. People are energized when they are productive.

Tip: Schedule in self-care activities to unwind.

When you actually schedule in down time, you will not have to “steal” it and actually waste more than is needed to recharge.

Do your own audit of your priorities and how you spend your time. Be truly honest. Learning to make these distinctions and plan your time will dramatically reduce the energy drain you feel from the false state of urgency.


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