Urgent/Important Grid

Prioritizing

Recently, I thought through how I truly prioritize work. Beyond the mental “is this hot?” exercise, what really makes something rise to the top of the list and get done? Admittedly, I thought about it more than I would on a day-to-day basis, and that is partly why the GTD framework recommends a weekly review – you get a chance to step back from the work and plan/prioritize.
Here is what my framework looks like for prioritization of the limitless requests for my time and energy:
  1. The first criteria is always doing the right thing, remember?
    Ask yourself, “is this the right thing to do?” If not, the priority is pretty clear.
  2. Urgent/Important grid
    I love this one. This concept is from Steven Covey’s excellent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People*. As a former IT guy, I find myself comfortable in the top-right corner of the grid, fighting fires. This is stressful though, and doesn’t allow you time to get to your high value-add projects and goals. Try to work on important things before they become urgent. Oh, and stop working on things that aren’t important. Yes, stop it!
    Urgent/Important Grid
  3. Value to the customer or stakeholder
    This is clear some of the time, and other times, you may want to do a fuller stakeholder map to understand who will be impacted/affected by your work.
  4. Manager’s expectations – what does your manager expect of you…yes, this can override some of the others.
  5. Deadlines – they work, even when self-imposed. Put it on your calendar.
  6. Time and energy required for next action vs. current personal state – this is a GTD principle, and you need to know yourself. If I do my best creative work at 9pm, I shouldn’t save the mindless report I need to pull together until then. I know a lot of peak creative hours are spent processing email, and it takes discipline to schedule your work around your work methodologies and preferences.

Obviously, you can’t just ignore deadlines and claim you were working on next year’s big project! Clearly communicate when deadlines will be missed, set expectations long before the deadlines hit if possible. Any factors I missed? Too many?

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2 thoughts on “Prioritizing”

  1. Maybe I’m misreading your, but I believe the sweet spot should be high-importance, low-urgency. That’s where you can work on things that are important before they become urgent.

    I think you need to be careful with deadlines; people like to throw that term around. I like to reserve the word “deadline” for something that has serious consequences if missed, and use “target date” when we’re aiming for a date, but nothing critical happens if we miss it. I suppose it’s just another way of prioritizing what truly needs to happen.

    You make a great point about peak creative hours. As I spend more time freelancing, and have more control over my schedule, I’m astounded at how productive I can be when I choose when to perform certain tasks.

    1. Wow, good catch – I created that graphic quickly, and put the words on the wrong axes. It is corrected now, and you are right: high-importance, low-urgency is what I meant.

      Good point on deadlines as well. In my industry, we often laugh at the “office furniture” emergencies we create for ourselves. 🙂

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