It is one of the oldest tricks in the books, and it is extremely effective: the urgency matrix. The urgency matrix is a guide to thinking about events which, inescapably, will emerge in your life. Usually during the course of the day. By email, text, pm, App or phone. Or at your desk. And even though they tend to feel urgent, they rarely are.
The question is; are you aware that your emotions are in play and that you are in control of what you do. Being effective in spending time is a skill you can easily and quickly acquire. All it takes is a healthy framework to assess your decisions through.
Before we dive into the urgency matrix, you need to take a step back and think about what drives decisions. Research tells us that the inability to make decisions is very much related to your ability to feel and interpret emotions related to any decision; decisions are not purely rational.
So coupling an event to a decision is a process that is not facilitated by a sliding scale of pro’s and con’s. Rather, it is a mix of your conscious mind weighing related thoughts and your emotional mind adding feelings about the possibilities you have before you. And you know that sticking to your work is difficult when the more appealing alternative emerges. But you rarely make a conscious decision to leave your work; you will simply take a quick break.
Who do you think you are you kidding?
The urgency matrix might help you stop, drop and roll, when you find your work rhythm interrupted. It gives you four categories to consider framing the emerging event. This can be a call from a friend, who has to tell you all about the crazy date he had on the weekend, or a WhatsApp from your girlfriend telling you to pick up milk at the supermarket on your way home.
The four categories are quite simple to comprehend. Let us start with a question: In which category do you ideally want to spend most of your time? Take a moment to think about it, while you look at the image above.
Could it be “Not Urgent, Not Important”? If every day were a sunday (and sunday is your day off), then you could spend the entire day doing unimportant, irrelevant things. Since this is also the category in which most unfulfilling tasks are aggregated, ask yourself this: What do I do, day to day, week to week, that is not urgent and not important? Is this what you want to spend your time on? Really?
Perhaps “Urgent, Not Important”? Definetely need to take care of this now. No time to waste; I need to get check the Huffington Post, or Perez Hilton, at least three times a day for the latest news and update my friends about my lunch and the great oakleaf in my latte’s foam… Maybe not. Many things seem important, where as they are simply irrelevant to any of the goals you have set in your life, nor are they relevant to tasks you wanted to complete at the start of the day. So why are you spending more than three hours every day on these menial tasks? Is your friendship really going to be put on hold if you aren’t up to date on the latest gossip? Who really cares about your lunch anyway? Seriously…
All right, then it’s got to be “Urgent and Important”? It could be. Life happens, and at times things come up that require your attention; right now. Not always, but you can spot them right off. A friend who is really in trouble (or got heartbroken five minutes ago…), perhaps a paper you thought was due next week turns out to be due tomorrow? Things become urgent and important for two reasons:
- You put it off too long, and now you have to get it done
- You are confronted with an emergency that is relevant to any one of your goals
Whatever the reason for something to be urgent and important, you need to act now. No time to doubt; make a decision and do something. If you live like this every day it gets real tiring, real fast. Do you really want to life like this? Think about it…
So what is left? You want to plan your agenda in such a way that most things that you need to do are important and not urgent. It is that simple. You do what needs to get done, and you do it timely. That way you avoid finding yourself in the urgent and important zone too often, where it could have been prevented.
How do you decide what is important and not urgent? Think about your goals; and ask yourself three simple questions:
- what do I want to accomplish over the course of time?
- how does this emerging event relate to what I want to accomplish?
- how much time have I spent on this goal in the past week?
Questions like these, with an honest answer will quickly help you discern the distractions from the priorities. And when you focus on your priorities, you get things done which matter to you.
Sometimes things will feel important and urgent. And when that happens, you now know to look for the not urgent but important things in your life as a measure for the appropriate action. You are the master of your emotions, and handling distractions is one of the major tests in achievement.
To answer the question, spend most of your time doing things which are not urgent, but important. That is where true fulfillment lies, waiting for you to find it.
*Source Garfield and Time