I was hosting a peer group this week and we were talking about time management and one of the peer group members mentioned the four quadrant concept of urgency vs importance. Upon doing some research, this concept is attributed to Dwight Eisenhower. The concept says that there are two axis, one that has Important at one end and Not Important on the other. The second access has Urgent at one end and Not Urgent at the other. This creates four possible scenarios:
- Urgent & Important
- Urgent & Not Important
- Not Urgent & Important
- Not Urgent & Not Important
When we look at this matrix it becomes clear where we tend to spend our time, on the things that are urgent. As I’ve learned over my career, the people that know the difference between those things that are urgent and not important and those that are important but not urgent and focus on the later are the most effective people. We live in an interrupt driven society with email, texts, FaceBook, LinkedIn and so much more. We are bombarded with information every minute of every day. Knowing which things to focus on is a critical success factor.
For many years I would focus on the urgent and not important and I realized that I was not getting very far. As soon as I started moving my energy to the long-term priority items, the more I started to put my energy in the projects that would keep the urgent and not important issues from surfacing, my life got so much better. When I was working at GE in the early 90’s, Jack Welch implemented a program called Workout. Workout was the predecessor to 6 Sigma and all the quality programs rolled out over the past 20 years. Workout had one simple premise, people liked checking off completed items, even if those items didn’t matter at all.
When Workout was rolled out teams of people that had similar jobs were brought together to compare their responsibilities and they were asked to prioritize them from 1 – 15. There was a Workout Coordinator who was trained to facilitate these sessions and help the teams properly prioritize their responsibilities. Once the list was complete they were to stop doing items 11 – 15 and if nobody said anything for a month they should stop doing them for good. What Welch and his team found out was that people were very happy working on items that weren’t really important but they felt like they accomplished something because they could check it off their list. In other words, they were very efficient but not very effective.
Another way of looking at this is the management vs leadership concept. Management is about doing things right, and leadership is about doing the right thing. We have so many opportunities in our lives to focus on the things that matter. We have an opportunity each day to focus on the activities that will produce the desired result that we want or we can do what’s easiest, what might make us feel better in the moment. Many years ago I stopped doing a lot of things that I realized weren’t producing results for me and just started focusing on those things that I was world class at. That moved our company forward. Over the years I’ve learned many of the areas that I struggle in and I have learned to delegate those to others. At this stage of my career, I would like to believe that I focus on the Important and Not Urgent issues regularly. How do you fare in this conversation?
To connecting the dots ….. one dot at a time!