you ever feel like your day is full of just putting out fires? Then at the end
of the day, you’re beaten and exhausted, but can’t for the life of you name one
thing you’ve accomplished? If this sounds like you, you’re being governed by
the urgent tasks in your life instead of the important ones. It’s time to
change that. So, take the time to read this post — you’ll be happy you did.
“What is important is seldom urgent
and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Those aren’t my words, though I wish I could take credit for
them. No, these are words of wisdom from Dwight D. Eisenhower. He truly knew
the difference between living for the urgent and living for the important, and
how to prioritize tasks for a more productive lifestyle.
The secret Eisenhower knew was that responding to urgent
tasks makes you reactive to your day, and when you’re simply reacting to things
coming at you, you’re never going to make any real progress. Look at sports,
for example: If a team has the best defense, they’ll still never win a game. Eventually
they’ll need some offense to put their own points on the board. So how do you
distinguish between the urgent and important tasks in your life?
Urgent – These
are tasks that require immediate attention. These are the to-dos that yell “NOW!”
Urgent tasks are usually unexpected and will always put us in a reactive
mindset. Luckily, these tasks aren’t as common or important as we think.
Important – These
are the tasks that contribute to your long-term success. They could be as grand
as the liberation of Europe, or professional goals like making your real estate
marketing firm the best it can be, or even a heartfelt family goal of spending
more time with your kids. When we deal with important tasks, we act in a
responsive mode, which allows us to stay calm, rational and open to new
To help better illustrate the point I’m trying to make, I’d
like to show you Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix. You will find that all the tasks
you’ll be asked to deal with fall into one of these quadrants.
but Not Urgent
Planning & Goals
but Not Important
Important & Not Urgent
Now that you’re familiar with the quadrants, you need to
know where to best spend your time so you can improve your daily productivity.
Quadrant 1: Important
These tasks are usually very rare, but they are things that
must be dealt with right away. This quadrant is usually filled with crises,
problems and deadlines. For example, this quadrant might include tasks like getting
back to inquiries from a new prospect, paying an urgent bill, the car breaking
down, your significant other or family member in the hospital, and so on.
Quadrant 2: Not
Urgent but Important.
These are tasks that don’t have the pressing deadlines like
Q1 but are nonetheless important to improving your chance of success in
business and in life. This quadrant could include things like family time,
weekly planning sessions, making a marketing calendar or business plan, date
night with your significant other, creating a budget, and enrolling clients in
a referral program.
These are the tasks you should seek out in life because they
will make you the happiest. They will contribute to your success and
productivity. Plus, dealing with these tasks in Q2 will stop them from igniting
and moving into Q1. This will make your life a lot less stressful. (See, you’re
starting to be proactive instead of reactive.)
This sounds great, right? So, why is moving from Q1 to Q2 so
hard? Well, there are two main reasons for this.
- You don’t know what’s important to you. You
can’t make a plan without a goal. If you struggle with this, take some time
this morning and try to picture yourself in five years. Where do you want to
be? What do you want to have?
- You have biased thinking. Your focus is probably
so set on the now that you can’t see into the next hour. If your life is full
of urgent tasks, this might have become your default mindset. You simply don’t
get motivated until there is that pressing deadline looming over your head.
Getting past this takes discipline and willpower, but it’s definitely worth the
investment to deprogram this kind of thinking.
Don’t live life with an “I’ll do that later” mindset — later
may never come. You’re going to have to make time for what’s important to you
and your life, because free time never seems to come along on its own. Part of
clearing up your day is going to be reassessing priorities in Q3.
Quadrant 3: Urgent
but Not Important.
These are the tasks that require our attention but don’t
help us with our long-term goals. These are interruptions in our daily life,
usually by people who want us to help them reach their goals and fulfill their
priorities. This quadrant includes things like phone calls, attending a friend’s
charity event, most email (though some can be important), helping a new
REALTOR® in the office, helping co-workers figure out the copier during your
prime working time.
Quadrant 3 is probably where you’re spending most of your
time, and these tasks are most likely being mistaken for Q1 priorities. This is
because you’re helping other people, which feels good (and it should). Surely
these tasks are important to them and they appreciate your help. (Face it — you
wouldn’t be in real estate if you didn’t like helping people.) But don’t help
at the expense of your own happiness. Sometimes you just have to say no, or let
people figure things out on their own. Chances are, you’re spending more time
in this quadrant than you should be. To help reduce this, become more assertive
and just start saying, “No.” However, we want to be able to help our friends in
their times of need, so balance saying no with being honest with yourself about
how much time you spend on frivolous activities.
Quadrant 4: Not
Urgent and Not Important.
These are the tasks that are not helping you get anything
done. They could include things like watching TV, playing video games, surfing Buzzfeed.com
and Cracked.com, reading celebrity gossip, or scrolling Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram and Pinterest.
Bottom line: These are distractions and time wasters, but we
do them because they’re fun. You shouldn’t have to stop watching your favorite show
or delete your Facebook account. Good old “veg” time does the mind good and
it’s important to unwind. But don’t allow yourself to spend too much time in
these areas. Keep yourself regulated. Make sure you’re using the DVR to record
that show, not planning your day around it. Set specific times to check your
social media accounts. Personally, I use Q4 as a reward to myself for finishing
I challenge you to adopt this way of categorizing your tasks
to help you become more efficient. Download our Daily Priority Matrix Worksheet
and use it to track your to-do list this week. Then come back and let me know
if you’ve been more productive.
Now get out there and start living a life that is focused on
your happiness and long-term success!