You may have come across some workers in your organization who never have time to rest. They are always up, about, anywhere and everywhere running between tasks that they need to accomplish by day end. They never even have time to sit and eat. Always getting home late, completely exhausted and stressed out. And yet they cannot pick out one thing that they have accomplished at the end of the day.
Imagine your supervisor asking you to write his speech for this all important occasion which will take place in two days time, and here you are already bogged down with a list of many other urgent tasks that you must also accomplish. This makes you anxious, unable to concentrate, distracted, moody and stressed because you have too much to do in too little time. Dwight D. Eisenhower attributed this to confusion of urgent and important.
Many managers, including myself, attribute their success to the Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle of time management – also called the Eisenhower Decision Principle. It says, “what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”. The principle works well if practiced in our private lives too. It gives one the leeway to exercise control over the amount of time to spend on specific tasks so that he/she can increase effectiveness, efficiency and/or productivity, which is in essence the definition of “time management”.
Urgent tasks are those that must be done now. Important tasks contribute to our long term goals but may not be necessarily urgent. Likewise, some tasks which are urgent are not necessarily important.
The Eisenhower Decision Principle suggests determining which of you tasks are important and which are not. It suggests dividing your tasks into four categories:
- Important and urgent – These are those tasks that require immediate attention. They comprise crises, problems or deadlines. Examples include a relative in an emergency room and an examination whose deadline has arrived. A good time manager always starts with these.
- Important and not urgent – These tasks do not have a pressing deadline. In his book called “The 7 Habits of Highly Efficient People”, Stephen Covey describes these tasks as those that provide us with lasting happiness, fulfillment and success. Examples are meditating, exercising and a date night with wife/husband. He says that this is where we should spend most of our time.
- Not important and urgent – These are tasks that require our attention now but do not contribute to achievement of our goals. They mostly come from other people who want you to assist them meet their goals. They may be important to others but are not important to you. An example is a colleague who asks you for a favor when you are very busy. Guys who carry out activities in this category are those nice colleagues who always want to please others at the expense of their own happiness. According to Covey, most people spend most of their time in this category, but they think they are working in category 1 above.
- Not important and not urgent – These tasks are generally distractions. They include watching television and mindless social networking. Covey advises that we do not completely eliminate them from our lives but to spend very little time on them.
A good time manager wakes up in the morning and assigns oneself to finish only those activities that are important and urgent for that day and also determines how much time to allocate each task. These may be two or three tasks. When they are done one may chose to go and play golf with friends (like one of my good friends who tells me that it is a good way to meet bosses and clients to sell your agenda and products). One may also choose to start tomorrow’s urgent tasks today, namely those tasks which are important, not urgent today but are going to be urgent tomorrow.