Let’s start with a quick quiz:

It’s a tough one, or maybe not.

A is the most urgent one, but so is C – just in case someone needs something first thing.

B isn’t urgent and can be left out of the equation for a while. D is easiest, quickest and, let’s face it, what we’d most want to do.

We tend to prioritise tasks based on urgency, but what about important tasks?

There is a HUGE difference between URGENT and IMPORTANT and this simple concept holds the master-key to changing your life dramatically – forever

In his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains most people are driven by the concept of urgency, but to drive positive change in our lives, we need to reorganise the way we spend our time; based on the concept of importance – not urgency

In essence, every activity we do can be put in one of four quadrants:

I.    Urgent and important

A: Type out the agenda for the 11am meeting you set up last week

II.    Not urgent and important

B: Start the productivity report due in 3 weeks

III.    Urgent and not important

C: Scan your emails and respond to urgent ones

IV.    Not urgent and not important

D: Quickly surf the net, get gossip, news headlines sport results 

The type of activities within these quadrants look like this:

Most people strive in Quadrants III and IV (C and D in our quiz) but effective, proactive and highly successful people thrive in Quadrant II (B in our quiz – and the least likely choice). This is why Quadrant II is called the Quadrant of Quality & Personal Leadership.

Ask yourself – “What is the one thing I could do on a regular basis that would make a tremendous positive difference in my life? Chances are it’s a Quadrant II activity.

In his great blog post Hurry, Seth Godin summed up how focusing on important issues in business can fundamentally underpin the success of an organisation.

Urgent issues are easy to address. They are the ones that get everyone in the room for the final go-ahead. They are the ones we need to decide on right now, before it’s too late. Smart organizations ignore the urgent. Smart organizations understand that important issues are the ones to deal with. If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.

The key to being effective is to:

  • Focus mostly on Quadrant II (important) tasks to prevent things sliding into Quadrant I (urgent).
  • In the first quiz, If I’d set up a meeting last week, sending the agenda would have been in Quadrant II and done before it was urgent.
  • Avoid office distractions.
  • Stay out of Quadrants III and IV – and that’s not easy.

A study by Basex found office distractions take up 2.1 hours of the average day – a whopping 28% – with workers taking an average of five minutes to recover from each interruption and return to their original tasks.

Still another study found a group of workers interrupted by e-mail and telephones scored lower on an IQ test than a test group that had smoked marijuana.

I’ll leave you with this final Seth Godin wisdom:

The most important idea of all is this one: You will succeed in the face of change when you make the difficult decisions first.

Enjoy your new Quadrant II life!