How to Prioritize and Get the Right Stuff Done

April 16, 2024 Eric Hinkle

“Time management is a misnomer. The challenge is to manage ourselves."
– Stephen Covey

I love a good 2x2 framework. Mainly because it’s super simple to understand. And remember. I've been using this one so long that I forgot where I first learned it. Until recently. It's based on Steven Covey's Time Management Matrix.

The two axes are...

  • Urgent: Tasks and responsibilities requiring immediate action or attention
  • Important: Tasks and responsibilities that are aligned with your values and goals

The "Do" quadrant acts on you. Green means go. This is what you NEED to do. Everything there is Urgent and Important. Deadlines, fires to put out, and immediate demands from customers.  Too much time in the "Do" quadrant is the result of poor planning ("Decide"). And can cause chronic stress and burnout. The key to your long-term success in work and life (ie, your mental health) is to minimize your "Do list." Act on those tasks and responsibilities BEFORE they act on you.

The "Decide" quadrant is where you create the life you really WANT. But it requires discipline and planning. And the ability to stay focused on the long-term. These are the "Big Rocks" in Stephen Covey's language. You need to carve out time to Decide big things like your purpose and how to find meaning in it. The goals and objectives that will help you fulfill your purpose and the actions required to meet those goals. Don't forget to include time for self-development, personal relationships, and your physical and mental health.

The "Divert" quadrant is Proximate, Pressing, and Popular.  But don't get DISTRACTED by other people's priorities, emails, phone calls, interruptions, or reports that don't get used to make better decisions. Delegate those tasks to someone else if you can. Yellow means slow down and use caution. In Covey language, this is where you find the pebbles and the sand.

The "Delete" quadrant is easy. Simply don't do it. Red means stop. Busywork that adds zero value to your life or anyone else's. Toxic relationships, unproductive meetings, too much news, most social media, and gossip can lead to DISASTERS in your work and personal life.

What’s the most productive thing I could be doing, right now?

Whenever I'm in the middle of a big project that keeps me stuck in the "Do" quadrant, I keep that simple question where I can see it when I come up for air. I'm not a fan of formal time management systems with letters and numbers and so forth. Too confusing and time consuming. Instead, I keep a simple wish list of everything I might want to do one day. And a weekly reminder on my calendar to review that list. 

Don't major in the minors. 

I know too many people who spend all their time working around the edges. They might be taking all the best supplements, but still eat and drink too much. Or move too little. Likewise, tweaking your logo or brand colors won't move the needle if no one sees them. Focus on the big rocks. Get your logo in front of more leads (ie, people who need your product). Don't rearrange the chairs on the deck if your ship is sinking.

👉 Inspired by Steven Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People



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