In his book First Things First, Stephen Covey created a 2×2 matrix for prioritizing work. The framework breaks down the grid with important/non-important on one axis and urgent/non-urgent on the other. The goal is to work on those tasks which are important, but non-urgent.
The quadrants are defined as follows:
Important and Urgent
These are the fires that need to be put out almost daily. They sap your energy and make you feel productive, however, it’s a pure adrenaline rush. And, at the end of the day, you realize that you haven’t really accomplished anything towards your goals. Unfortunately, many jobs seem like they should include firefighting in the experience necessary to fulfill their job responsibilities.
Important and Non-Urgent
Ideally, this is where we want to spend our time. Quadrant 2 activities are those that bring us further towards the completion of our goals. Into this quadrant go pursuits such as exercise, planning, visualizing, and preparation. Very often, these are the activities that keep getting put on the back burner, which is sad, because they help us create the success we want in our life.
Non-Important and Urgent
Day by day, the non-important but seemingly urgent activities take our focus away from taking action on our goals. These are the distractions, whether in-person or on the phone, that drive us crazy as they are usually tied to other people’s fires. These include some meetings, email and phone calls.
Non-Important and Non-Urgent
The simplest way to describe these activities is sheer time-wasters. They are activities that have no payoff whatsoever. The rest of our meetings, email and phone calls probably fall into this category. It also includes dealing with junk mail, spam and any escapist activities. Stay far, far away from these.
A great exercise to do is to take all the activities on your to-do list and label them according to their appropriate quadrant. As quickly as possible, eliminate those in quadrant 4, cut down quadrant 3 activities, spend as much time in quadrant 2 as possible and that should eliminate or at least cut down your quadrant 1 activities.