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The 4 Quadrants of Urgency and Importance

How is your time management? Are you spending your time on activities that are important or are you wasting your time on activities that don’t matter? Author Stephen Covey’s urgency/importance four-quadrant time management model is a powerful tool you can use to prioritize how you spend your time.

In Covey’s model, the four quadrants are based on urgency and importance.

Neither Urgent Nor Important

In the lower-right quadrant you find those activities that are neither urgent, nor important. These include your pleasant time-wasters such as getting lost in social media, some phone calls and emails, non-productive tasks, mindless TV or internet surfing, some types of socializing, mindless video games, and busy work.

Urgent, Not Important

4 quadrants of time management
4 quadrants of time management

In the lower-left quadrant are those activities that are urgent, but not important. This is often referred to as your quadrant of distraction. Activities in quadrant three might include something that’s important to other people but isn’t your responsibility, dealing with unimportant personal issues, many emails and telephone calls, and some meetings. Often, you can delegate activities in this quadrant, if they even need to be accomplished at all.

Important, Not Urgent

In the upper-right quadrant, you find the activities that are important, but not urgent. Your time management coach would tell you to spend most of your time in this quadrant, but, paradoxically, it’s often the quadrant that is most frequently ignored. In this quadrant, you find planning and preparation, personal growth and development, and relationship-building. For IT people, network design, system backups, business development, UX and CX design and testing, software enhancement upgrades, network upgrades, and staff training are all examples of activities that are important, but not usually urgent.

Important and Urgent

Finally, in the upper-left quadrant are those activities that are both important and urgent. They would certainly include network outages and other outages that prevent users from doing their jobs. Additionally, restoring backups following an outage, and dealing with ransomware and other debilitating security problems are quadrant one issues.

How do you decide where to spend your time? How do you decide where to allocate company resources? As you consider the demands on your time and resources, simply ask yourself, “Is this activity important or not?” If it’s both important and urgent, stop what you’re doing and deal with it. For something that’s important, but not urgent, it’s worth devoting about 75% of your time and resources to it. If it’s in either quadrant three or four, don’t spend much time there, nor allocate much in terms of resources. Often, you can delegate activities in the urgent/not important quadrant. Certainly, some of those pleasant time-wasters can be valuable in transitioning between tasks or decompressing after high-pressure or turbulent times. Even so, you must take care not to spend more than about 5% of your time there.

Covey cautions us to beware of the urgency addiction in his book, First Things First. “Some of us get so used to the adrenaline rush of handling crises that we become dependent on it for a sense of excitement and energy.” He says, “Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.” That’s really what time management is all about.

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