Time header
products page

Time management - Urgent v important part 2.

Urgent v important part 2

Urgent v Important 2

The definitions

Just as a reminder.


Urgent tasks are deadline based. This is usually independent of yourself and is often driven by others. The sooner the task needs completion the more urgent it is. This has no relation to importance.


The importance of a job drives how much ‘time’ you want to spend on it. Notice that this is independent of ‘urgency’ and is what you want to do not what time you actually spend on it. For any task the quality of your output will often relate to the time you spend on it.


Once you have ranked your list of jobs for ‘urgency’ and ‘importance’ you will be able to put them into a matrix as in the diagram.
You may have to modify your ranking method a little.

Box 1.

These are urgent and important. They must be done now. These are critical activities and also support you goals. In terms of crises they may be a mixture of problems that you could have avoided with better planning or were completely unexpected.

Box 2.

These are ‘urgent’ but ‘not important’. They tend to be jobs not related to your goals but generated by others. Because you don’t really want to spend much time on tasks not connected with your goals you may wish to try an delegate these.

Box 3.

These items are ‘not urgent’. This means their deadlines are in the future. They are important so you must do them. So plan them well for carrying out in the future.
A lot of jobs will fall in this area make sure you plan properly or you will have problems later.

Box 4.

These are neither ‘urgent’ or ‘important’. These can be simple trivial tasks that you ought to avoid doing but you may end up doing just to ‘get them out of the way’.
Be wary as some of these tasks may be trivial now but they may move into a higher ranked category if not seen to.

This system is very black and white but will need some interpretation for real life examples. If someone telephones you for urgent information you are not likely to put them on hold while you put the task into one of the boxes and deal with it appropriately.

Category detail

Box 1

Highly important and urgent tasks should be pretty rare. Particularly, if you have generally planned well. However, jobs in this box need immediate attention, for example, safety issues must be resolved, family crisis, product quality has been compromised, senior management want data for an urgent meeting etc.
Hopefully, you wont see too many of these sorts of issues.

So what does it mean if you are constantly dealing with crises and fire fighting?
If this is the case there is often poor planning at the route of it. This may be your own poor planning in which case you need to deal with it appropriately.
If you are a manager and are constantly dragged into dealing with crises materialising from others you will need to deal with their training.

How many parents spend a lot of needless time sorting out problems of their children?
Quite a few I would guess. Try to examine the route causes and deal with them.

The above techniques will help to keep jobs in box 3 where planning should be carried out more thoroughly.
Confusion over importance can push some tasks from box 2 to 1 by mistake.

In terms of your diary do them straight away.

Box 2

These are the tasks with near deadlines but not relevant to your own goals. Much of your daily activity will come under this heading.
There will be plenty of jobs in this category that are trivial in themselves but would have serious consequences if not done, for example, paying bills.
Try to spend as little time as possible on this category of task.

People will still spend more time than is necessary on these jobs for a variety of reasons.
If you particularly like a task you will keep with it for too long.
You believe the job is ‘important’ when in fact it isn’t (just urgent) although it may well be important to others it is not to you.
If the quality of the task output is too high (unnecessarily) then you will tend to take up too much time.

The key with items that should only command a small amount of your time is to make sure you understand what is required and do not exceed that requirement.

You will need to put these tasks into your diary for completion ahead of the deadline and plan to give them as little time as possible.

Box 3

These tasks are relevant to your goals so are ‘important’ but ‘not urgent’ in that their deadlines are not immediate.
There are two key sorts of tasks that may appear here to be wary of.
The first are tasks that if left undone can easily end up in Box 1 as a crisis. By ‘done’ we mean that you thoroughly assess these and plan their completion rigorously so that you are not surprised later with unforeseen events.

Anything can end up in Box 1 if you leave it long enough. One character of a good manager is to ask ‘why?’
If you find too many items ending up in Box 1 ask ‘why?’ and learn from the experience so that it will not happen again.

If you have any room in your diary after putting in the Box 1 and 2 tasks fill some space with Box 3 tasks.

Box 4

These are the rest of the tasks that are ‘not urgent’ and ‘not important’. If you leave these jobs to simmer for say 4 weeks they will either jump to becoming ‘urgent’ into Box 2 or you may find that they are irrelevant and you can bin them. Some items that would be in this area you may be able to automate at a time when you do not need to be there. For example, computers can be backed up, checked for viruses and adware whilst you are sleeping.

If you are inundated with jobs one option is to work longer hours. This is the least attractive option if this carries on for any length of time as it can be physically and mentally draining. The long term option is to improve your Time Management skills.

Many items in Box 4 are done just for fun as they are neither ‘important’ or ‘urgent’.

Job needs

When you use this system assessing whether a job is ‘important’ or not is possibly easier at home than at work.
In your work environment you will be subject to job descriptions and as such will be obliged to complete tasks that are not necessarily part of your goals.
However, losing your job or position is not a good way to reach your goals so many jobs are ‘important’ in an indirect manner.

Job order

In theory, you would tackle the jobs in the order Box 1, then 2, then 3 and finally Box 4. It is quite likely that if you did this you would never get into Box 3 on many occasions. Thus some of the Box 3 jobs ought to be done anyway despite the natural order. If you have any gaps in your activities then is the time to start Box 4.

These can be fitted in to your diary once you have accounted for Boxes 1, 2 and 3.
Remember that you may need to pencil some time for potential emergencies and some ‘quiet time’.

Once you have identified a Box for your task think if you need to do it, if not, try to delegate it.

In general, you shouldn’t have much in Boxes 1 and 4 and most of your work in Boxes 2 and 3.
The split should be about 10% Box 1, 10% Box 4 and 40% for Boxes 2 and 3.

If in an audit you find the percentages regular exceed these look at the underlying causes and try to do something about them.

Non - PRINCE2 information