Prioritizing TasksSo how do you prioritise a task so you can become effective with Time Management and thus your project or series of tasks?

There are many different ways to do this.

The key is to keep it simple.

One of my favourite ways of prioritizing is to use the Covey matrix developed by Stephen Covey, which keeps things very simple and clear with Time Management.  You can also use the Ease Effect matrix which categorises things by effort. These 2 have a lot of similarities.

Why is it important to prioritise?.   As I have discussed already, it’s extremely important that you always focus on the vital few that will always return the most effective results.  In this post I will show you how to use the Covey matrix, how it relates to the 80-20 rule and therefore how you can use it for managing your workflow commitments.

The covey matrix is divided into four quadrants and categorise them in relation to Importance and Urgency.  They are as follows

1. Important and Urgent

2. Important and Not Urgent

3. Not Important and Urgent

4. Not Importance and Not Urgent

As you can see you can define tasks in to one of the four categories.  So when you start a new project or a series of tasks first thing you should do is categorise according to these quadrants.  So in essence you brainstorm a ‘to do list’.  Please note you may not capture all tasks, and that is fine you can always add it to your list later on.

So why brainstorm?

As discussed, the key is to keep focussed on tasks that lie in Quadrant 2, however, issues will always crop up, crisis situations happen and many other things. So with that, once you can have an idea of all the things that can cause interruptions, you can

1. Important and Urgent

You call this the necessity quadrant.  This quadrant include tasks that have become a crisis.  Examples of these would include

–          Poor planning

–          Pressing problems

–          Project deadlines

–          Procrastination

–          Fire-fighting

Sometimes there is no escaping this quadrant and the key here is to minimize this as much as possible.  If you see a lot of tasks that are from this quadrant you need to make note of this.

What happens when you spend too much time in this Quadrant?

–          You will become very stressed

–          You will eventually burn out

–          You will be get into the vicious cycle of crisis management and will always be in firefighting mode

This quadrant will always overwhelm you and it is imperative that you manage this as effectively as you can.

You will never escape this quadrant however you will have to keep a tight rein on it.

4 Quadrant Covey Matrix2. Important and not Urgent

You call this the effectiveness quadrant.  This is where you should spend the majority of your completing tasks.  If you remember our discussions on the 80-20 rule, this is that 20%, that vital few!

Examples of these would include

–          Good preparation

–          Prevention and continuous improvement work

–          Relationship building

–          Recognizing new opportunities

–          Planning and recreation

–          Training and coaching

This is quadrant where you will be getting the most effective results.  The more time you spend on these tasks the better for the project.

What happens when you spend time in this quadrant?

–          You  will have a great perspective on things

–          You will achieve your vision

–          You will have discipline and control in your work

–          There will be very little crisis

–          Your project or goal will develop the way it should or even better

 3. Not important and Urgent

This quadrant is all about the day-to-day interruptions you have, and they come in many different forms.  You need to be aware of them and you have to develop counter measures so when they happen you are fully prepared to deal with them.

Examples of these include

–          Interruptions, some callers, unable to say no

–          Some mail, some reports

–          Some meetings

–          Proximate, pressing matters

–          Popular activities

–          Other people’s issues

These issues are generally caused from other people, in relation to their priorities and there needs.  Come in in the form of distractions, things you to do to make ourselves seem busy which take of time.  You can then justify that you have been busy but you do not have the results to show for it.  While sometimes this is inevitable you need to mitigate these as much as possible.

What happens when you spend too much time in this quadrant?

–          You will end up in crisis management mode

–          You focus will be very short term

–          You will never work towards goals or plans, in fact you will see them as worthless

–          You will feel victimised and feel out of control

–          You will gain a reputation for being a chameleon character

–          You will have shallow relationships

 4. Not important and Not Urgent

This quadrant is all about complete time wasting.  There is absolutely nothing to be gained here.  These are actions that need to be ruthlessly eradicated.

Examples of this includes

–          Trivia, busy work

–          Some mail

–          Some phone calls

–          Time wasters

–          Pleasant activities

What happens if you spend too much time in this quadrant

–          You become very lazy and uninterested in your work

–           And in fact may end up in a job loss situation

–          You become dependent on others

–          And you are totally irresponsible.

So I hope its clear for you to where you should be spending the majority of your time.  As I have already said, tasks from quadrants 1,2 & 4 will always show up, this is life and this is normal, so expect them.  The key is how you control them.  You should always have strategies in place that will bring you back to quadrant 2 tasks.  I recommend you review your tasks daily to ensure you stay there as much as possible.  It also gives you the opportunity to elevate other quadrant issues to senior personnel who can help and advise you when you need it.

 Quadrant Cause & Effect