Help with Prioritizing Tasks

The Urgent/Important Matrix

Important & Urgent
Go to school and pick up sick child
Collate papers for presentation tomorrow
Important & Not Urgent
Outline presentation due in 3 months 
Work on budget for next quarter
Urgent & Not Important
Return due book to library
Respond to emails as they come in
Not Urgent & Not Important
Catch up on Facebook
Watch TV

The above matrix has been around a long time. I first saw it in Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I have since seen it used in different forms including in two of our workshops at the NAPO conference this year.
The concept is worth thinking about when trying to prioritize our tasks. Look at your “to do” list and place each task in one of the quadrants.

So often we react to what is directly in our face. These tasks we think of as urgent. They may be very important like helping someone out in a true emergency or taking care of a task that is very important in our work. Sometimes these tasks that scream Now! are not really that important. The library book is due today. The library is a 30 minute drive across town and you are on a very tight schedule. Perhaps it makes more sense to pay a fine and return the book later in the week when you are doing other tasks in the same geographical area. Answering a ringing phone often seems urgent. But probably not as important as getting out the door on time to be on time for an appointment.

Important but not urgent tasks are often put off. They rarely have an immediate deadline. However, if we don’t attend to these tasks they may eventually become urgent. It is important to exercise but maybe not urgent. We feel we can put it off until another day. Eventually we may forget about it. But eventually our health will deteriorate. Working on a presentation due in three months will get pretty urgent in two months and three weeks.
It is a good idea when prioritizing our “to do” list to put in one important but not urgent task early in the day or it may get pushed off until it hits the urgent mode.

Think about it.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer


  1. Anonymous says

    I have seen this matrix a number of times but it is always a great reminder that URGENT and IMPORTANT are NOT one and the same! If it's urgent, but not important, maybe someone else can look after it: a family member, if it's a personal or household task, or a colleague or virtual assistant if it's business-related.

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