A useful tool for dealing with Urgency Addiction or Digital Distractions is the urgent/important or time management matrix.

Popularized by Stephen R. Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, the time management matrix helped me move away from reactivity and toward important long-term priorities.

Before diving into the mechanics of the time management matrix, let’s take a few moments to understand the definition of urgent and important.

The Lure of Urgent

By definition, urgent activities are reactive.

Something happens within our environment, and we find ourselves automatically reacting to the situation.

  • A client with a pressing problem
  • The computer system crashes
  • An upcoming project deadline
  • A co-worker asking for help
  • An inbox with unread emails
  • A notification on our phone
  • A health concern raised by your Doctor
  • A day filled with back-to-back meetings
  • Your child (or boss) (or spouse) (or you) has a temper tantrum

Each of these is an example of urgent, pressing problems, that need to be handled now.

There are three challenges with the urgent:

First, they are easy. Unless we plan ahead, there is an endless list of pressing things to do. Since they are right in front of us, it takes little effort on our part, and we often react without thinking.

Second, they are highly visible. There is a social norm to check a vibrating phone, stay-up-date on email, and appear busy. This adds social pressure from your peers and makes it extremely difficult to say no.

Third, they are additive. We feel good when we solve an immediate problem, handle a crisis, or vent our frustration. This makes it challenging to create space for long-term prevention and planning.

The Importance of Importance

Importance is measured by results.

Something is considered important if it contributes to your long-term goals and critical projects.

Here are a few examples of important items:

  • Planning and strategy
  • Personal growth and development
  • Developing your people
  • Regular exercise
  • Building relationships
  • Mediating daily
  • Recognizing new opportunities
  • Proper rest and relaxation
  • Reading a good book

Notice anything interesting about this list?

Most important items are not urgent.

Important items require forethought, advanced planning, and the benefits are not immediately visible.

Now that we have a common understanding of urgent and important let’s dive deeper into the time management matrix.

The Time Management Matrix

The time management matrix helps classify each of our tasks as urgent or important. Basically, all of our time is spent in one of four ways:

Quadrant I (top left) – Important and Urgent

This first group of activities require your immediate attention because they are both urgent and important.

They are the crises of the day, pressing problems, and upcoming project deadlines.

Time spent in this quadrant needs to be minimized as much as possible as it leads to unnecessary stress and eventual burnout.

Build support systems to ensure you meet your deadlines. Dig into the root cause of each crisis and invest time and effort to discover patterns. You will be amazed as to what you uncover.

If you find yourself spending too much time in this quadrant, it may be time to look within. You will be surprised as to how your blind spots are contributing (and supporting) your urgency addition. The hard truth is that there’s a good chance you are the cause of the spin.

Quadrant II (top right) – Important and Non-urgent

The second group of tasks are important yet non-urgent. These items do not require your immediate attention however they are essential if you want to achieve your long-term goals.

This includes crises prevention, relationship building, personal development, long-term planning, creating positive habits, and regular rest and recreation.

Quadrant II is where you want to spend the majority of your time. The benefits of focusing on this quadrant include purpose, perspective, balance, discipline, confidence and control; All the traits of a mindful leader.

Initially, your time spent here will be focused on building the habits, processes, and systems to handle the other three quadrants effectively. Once those routines are in place, you will be able to create space for bigger goals and larger projects.

Quadrant III (bottom left) – Non-important and Urgent

The third group of tasks are non-important and yet appear urgent. These items are a result of poor planning and should be minimized, delegated, or eliminated.

If you look through your calendar, I’m sure there are a few meetings that are not a good use of your time and should be eliminated.

When you review your to-do list, I’m sure that are some tasks that are not leveraging your strengths and should be outscored or delegated.

And when you dive into your inbox, I’m sure there are some emails where you don’t need to be “in the loop,” and you should unsubscribe or minimize.

A tricky area is popular social activities, where to feel part of the group requires that you participate at some level. You don’t have to go to every after work function, join every club, or go to every party. Perhaps it’s time to limit or move away from this group. Ask yourself, is this group positively supporting me?

Quadrant IV (bottom right) – Non-important and non-urgent

The last group of items are the non-important and non-urgent items. These are time-wasters and should be minimized or eliminated.

This includes trivial busy work, most email, time wasters, and pleasant activities.

Binge watching a series on Netflix, checking your FaceBook feed for the latest cat meme, and mindlessly watching YouTube videos, all fall into this category.

My Achilles heel is video games. It’s so easy to lose a couple of hours playing games on my iPad.

The challenge with this quadrant is that companies are getting very good at turning us into mindless reactive zombies. They are investing insane amounts of money to suck us in and keep us engaged.

Unfortunately, spending too much time in this quadrant sets us on the path to mediocrity.

The flip side is that there is a tremendous opportunity. With a little bit of discipline and willpower, you can establish the right habits to minimize the time spent in this quadrant.

The Secret

The secret to becoming a successful positive influencer is to spend as much time as possible doing the important yet non-urgent (QII top right) activities.

Be mindful of what’s grabbing your attention at any particular point in time.

Do you easily get caught up in the crisis of the moment? What systems can you put into place to be more proactive instead of reactive?

Are the urgent items that are filling up your days really that important? Perhaps it’s time to step back and gain perspective.

Or do you need to strike a healthily balance between taking regular breaks and getting sucked up in the latest digital distraction? Ask yourself, what time wasters can I limit or drop entirely?

Take a few moments and decide to make one tiny change, no matter how small. What one thing that you can do now, that will help move you into QII?

What’s stopping you from spending more time in QII, doing important yet non-urgent activities? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Post your comments below, and I will be sure to respond.

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