What Priority?

Bill Abbate

Have you ever said, “Where does all of my time go?”Most of us have. Let’s look at a simple way that will help you get on track to live your best life.

Thoughts about thinking

What consumes your time consumes your life.

If you had to account for each hour of your time, how much would you estimate you have wasted, and how much have you used wisely for the past year? If you are like most of us, you will have to think long and hard to give an honest answer. The reason for asking this question is that much of our time passes unnoticed. Besides not paying attention to where our time has gone, we often overlook our thoughts.

Have you ever considered what you think about on an average day? How much of it is meaningful or important? Perhaps your brain is filled with random thoughts and musings of little significance much of the time.

With so many things on our minds, where does one start? The answer is as individual as you are. But there is a way to rein in key thoughts and use them to your advantage.

Determining what is best to do next

A decision matrix provides a simple way to choose where you spend your time and life. The graphic below is a condensed version, with the full version and sample at the end of this article. Let’s discuss the matrix and how you can use it to improve your life significantly.

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Steven Covey popularized the priority matrix some years ago. The oldest reference dates back to World War II and credits General Ike Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, for developing the idea. The matrix is a powerful tool for making decisions by prioritizing your life and thoughts.

To uncover what consumes your time and determine its worth, you can use the matrix to take a snapshot of your life anytime you wish. As you develop this picture, it will show you what is consuming your time.

“Where your time goes, so goes your life.”

You can do a priority snapshot for a day, a week, a month, a year, or more. As you develop pictures of how you spend your time and life, you position yourself to think in a new way. These snapshots can give you the information needed to achieve your life goals.

Putting the matrix to use

Let’s develop a picture and consider what to do next. Using the priority matrix form that follows this article, identify the things in the last few days that have consumed most of your time. As each item comes to mind, determine whether it is important or not and whether it is urgent or not. Once you make this determination, record your answer in the appropriate quadrant.

A completed example follows the blank form at the end of this article.

By reviewing the following, you can see how I categorized some items for a snapshot of a month sometime back in my life:

Manage — ImportantandUrgent

Example

  • Give all tax filing documents for the year to the accountant before the end of the month.
  • Finish the quarterly draft report for review by next Friday.
  • Schedule the trip to our management meeting before the 15th.
  • Call our largest customer about production issues as soon as we review the information received from his plant.

Manage

The items you have listed as important and urgent require time and attention. We often respond quickly to what lands in this quadrant.

For example, one of the items in my manage quadrant emerged when an important client had a sudden opportunity and needed my services immediately. Because of the situation and the relationship, I rescheduled several things so I could help them.

While unexpected things can happen, items can wind up in this quadrant because of inattention, like putting off dealing with something important, such as arranging a vacation.

Although I had months to plan, I waited too long to buy the airline tickets for our last vacation. Suddenly, I faced a looming deadline, fully realizing the airfare would cost more because I kept putting it off. Unfortunately, I not only paid more for the flights, I could no longer get my seating preferences — all because I procrastinated.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)

Create — ImportantbutNot Urgent

Example

  • Spend time with my wife each morning and evening, telling her something I appreciate about her.
  • Prepare for the weekly men’s group at church.
  • Review our budget the first Saturday of each month.
  • Plan upcoming vacation time before the end of the year.
  • Keep tabs on work email at least twice a day.
  • Maintain my daily workout schedule.

Create

The important but not urgent quadrant often contains items that help us create more value. Because of this, I often refer to it as the creating quadrant.

One of the big items for many baby boomers that goes here is retirement and other such planning. It can also include things like continuing education, exercising to maintain or improve health, prioritizing marriage, and spending time with our kids and others we care about.

Pay particular attention to what is in this quadrant. What lands here can be essential to our health, well-being, and long-term satisfaction. These items might not be urgent, but they cannot and should not be back-burnered indefinitely.

Avoid — Not Important but Urgent

Example

  • Some work email.
  • John’s requests for help because of his constant procrastination.
  • Have my assistant screen and deal with unimportant phone calls.
  • Close my office door when I am busy to limit drop-ins.

Avoid

The not-important yet urgent quadrant contains items that could eventually become beneficial. Those that may hold promise are better off being delegated if you have someone to delegate to. Otherwise, they can consume your time and attention, which you can spend better elsewhere.

When someone solicits your help because of their lack of planning, learn to say no. You always have something you can do that makes better use of your time. For instance, I once had a co-worker who would come to me several times a year at the twelfth hour asking for help on something he had procrastinated on.

After helping him a few times and dealing with the stress it created, it dawned on me that it was his problem, not mine. Until then, he knew he could count on me to bail him out. By doing so, I was enabling his bad habit. Our relationship became strained because he rarely suffered the consequences of his inaction due to my inability to say no.

Other things that wind up in the avoid quadrant are meetings you have no business attending, permitting constant interruptions, and the lack of saying no.

If there is an area of your life where you could put procrastination to good use, benefitting you in the long run, it is in this and the next quadrant.

Eliminate— Not ImportantandNot Urgent

Example

  • Checking email constantly throughout the day.
  • Answering every phone call since many of them are unproductive.
  • Spending too much time on the internet and YouTube

Eliminate

The eliminate quadrant consists of true time-wasters. When things land in this quadrant, which they always do, it is best to ignore them altogether. Get rid of everything that lands here, and don’t look back.

Some things like downtime might seem to go here, but everyone needs some free time. In fact, it can be helpful to add some downtime to your create quadrant so you can rest and recharge.

Final thoughts

Why not develop a picture of your current priorities using the following form as soon as possible? I’ve included a completed sample for your convenience.

By carefully considering the items in the four quadrants of the priority matrix, you can tap into its power and reclaim some of your time and life!

As once said long ago,

“An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.” Dale Carnegie (1888–1955)

Why not add “planning a snapshot” to the “create” quadrant and save yourself a ton of time in the future?

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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