Focusing on not urgent Tasks will BOOST Results on Your Projects

Focusing on not urgent Tasks will BOOST Results on Your Projects

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Tuesday, 16 May 2017 07:37

Do you ever feel like all you do is running from one task to another and you are constantly in fire-fighting mode?
It happens to the best of us.

Here we propose an effective solution to start coping with this chronic condition and fix it for good in just a couple of weeks...


Not all Tasks are born the same

By now you should know that now all Tasks were NOT created equal.
There are things that should be done asap and other things that can be postponed a little bit. This is elementary and, in a black and white World, it would be really easy to do Project Management.

Unfortunately, the real World is a very complex place and most of the time all the stuff that are piling up on your desk are of "top-priority" nature.
How do you cope with that?

First: no panic.
Do not let panic have the best on you. Anytime you feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to deal with, write them down on paper.
Making a list delivers instant clarity and helps you focusing, leaving no place for panic to kick in.

Second: do the 20% that matters.
For sure you know the Pareto principle that says "80% of your results comes from 20% of your work".
Great... so the trick here is to identify which is, among the things on your desk, the 20% that will bring most of the results.
When Tasks are complex and of different nature, it is not that easy to decide which one goes in the glorious 20%.

What if there was a system to decide which Tasks to push up on your list?


Urgent versus Important

Let's begin by underlining the difference between URGENT and IMPORTANT. They are not the same thing.


Urgent is defined as "requiring immediate action or attention".

Important is defined as "of great significance or value".


So you see, the two things are fundamentally different as the "importance" of a task is time independent while its urgency depends on time and context.
Importance is an intrinsic value of the Task while urgency is an "acquired" value in relation to external circumstances.

The 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, former general in the United States Army and "Allied Forces Supreme Commander" during World War II, used to say:


"what is important is seldom urgent
and what is urgent is seldom important".


This statement gave birth to what is known as "Eisenhower Matrix", where the urgency and importance of a Task are plotted on a chart to give a clear and undisputable characterization of the nature of the task.

leansite eisenhower matrix 1



The Eisenhower Matrix is a fantastic tool that can bring instant clarity on which are the Tasks you should focus your attention on.
In the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", the Author Stephen R. Covey, discuss at length about the Matrix and the impact it can have on productivity and results.


In the Eisenhower Matrix, space is divided into 4 quadrants and each quadrant has well-defined characteristics.

QUADRANT 1: Important and Urgent.
Here are all the fire-fighting activities. This quadrant is the place for "crisis". Unfortunately today you spend most of you time in activities of this quadrant.
In order to improve results and reduce stress, you have to learn how to handle tasks so that you can avoid dealing with them when they are in quadrant 1.


QUADRANT 2: Important and LESS Urgent.
This is the place where planning and creative work happens. This is the place where you want to spend most of your time.


QUADRANT 3: LESS Important and Urgent.
These things have to be done... but, as they are less important, the quality of their execution is less critical.
You can do these things quickly or delegate them to subordinates.


QUADRANT 4: LESS Important and LESS Urgent.
These activities have no place on your schedule. They definitely should be postponed or dropped altogether.


In his book, Stephen R. Covey explains how you should organize your time so that you cut time from quadrant 4, 3 and 1 and allocate it to quadrant 2 activities.
This concept is the cornerstone of great productivity and it represents the solution to your fire-fighting problems.
Basically is equals to say that you should plan more so that you'll have fewer troubles to deal with.

Here is how the allocation of your time should be planned, based on this concept.


leansite eisenhower matrix 3


The main challenge for an effective use of the Matrix is to establish to which degree each Task is Important and Urgent.
Once this information is known, it is easy to pin the task on the chart and process it according to the rules of the quadrant where it belongs.

So, the question seems to be: is there a reliable and repeatable way to determine Importance and Urgency of a Task?


Write it on paper

During years of task-juggling, we came up with a simple method that we'd love to share with you.
Here is how we do it.

  1. take the list of the Tasks you have to deal with... if you do not have a list, make it already!
  2. duplicate the list so that you end up having 2 identical lists (TIP: you can do this with post-it or on Excel);
  3. label list 1 as "Important" and list 2 as "Urgent";
  4. on the "Important" list, sort your tasks by importance;
  5. on the "Urgent" list, sort your tasks by urgency;
  6. keep in mind that no two tasks can have the same importance or urgency;
  7. build the Eisenhower Matrix using as many rows and columns as the number of Tasks you have;
  8. pin each Task on the right position in the Matrix.

Here are a few screenshots to help you make sense of this process.
In the one below, you see how 12 different Tasks have been listed and prioritized by importance and urgency.


leansite eisenhower matrix 3


The position of a task in the sorted list gives you the coordinates to pin the Task onto the Eisenhower Matrix.
Basically, this system forces your Tasks on a Matrix that is covering EXACTLY your Tasks-space. It is a Matrix, where "importance" and urgency" are relative to your Tasks and have no actual real meaning... in other words, even if all your Tasks are urgent, some are more and some are less. It is always possible to "zoom-in" and organize your work based on priorities.

Here is the Matrix for the Tasks listed above:

leansite eisenhower matrix 4


Putting everything together

Once your Tasks are pinned on a "zoomed" Eisenhower Matrix, it becomes pretty clear how you should be dealing with them.

Taking this case as an example:

  1. Get rid of Tasks in Quadrant4 (red). Either drop them or send an email saying you can't deal with them right now;
  2. Delegate Tasks in Quadrant3 (yellow). Ask your colleagues to take care of them and give clear priority (seen NOTE below);
  3. Deal yourself with Tasks in Quadrant1 (green). It is now time to fire-fight what it left in there... it should not be very much... at max it can be 50% of your Tasks;
  4. When you are done with everything above, it is time to sit and relax. Start dealing with Quadrant2.


NOTE: for each quadrant, you want to process Tasks always in order of Importance.


You should see that this method made easier to "discard" 50% of the Tasks (yellow and red) and forced you to focus on just 2 (17% of the total) before turning your attention to those Tasks that would become a problem tomorrow.

This method brings great clarity and, if you use it on a daily basis, soon most of your Tasks will be in Quadrant2 and you'll be one of the most efficient Project Managers in town :) 


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Published in Workplan/

Read 717 times Last modified on Thursday, 25 May 2017 02:27

Andrea Bronzini

Brilliant and committed professional.
Andrea has been working in construction industry since 2004 and he was certified as Passivhaus Consultant in 2010.
Among other skills, Andrea specialises in Sales and Marketing and collaborates with Leansite in quality of Marketing Consultant.