Something about the holidays and the new year makes me think about my life, my family, my goals, and what is truly important. Sometimes we forget the big picture, and in the hustle and bustle of life (and holidays), we tend to spend more time doing things that really don’t matter. Recently, when my five year old asked me to stop looking at my phone and listen to her, I noticed that I spend a lot of time on things that really don’t matter to me and I get distracted very easily.
The late Stephen Covey dedicated his work to helping people achieve that they want out of life. He had some advice that helps all of us to jump start our priorities, tackle a to-do list, prioritize, and spend our time doing what really matters.
Urgency v. Importance
The first key is to decide what is urgent vs. what is important. It may not seem important to run errands or go to the grocery store, but those things may be urgent. It is urgent to pay your mortgage when it’s past due or take the dog for a walk when he’s running in circles. It may be important to keep a journal or spend time with your kids, but that might not seem like an urgent matter today. Everything you spend your time doing should be either urgent, or important, or somewhere in the middle.
Start prioritizing your life by writing down your daily, weekly and monthly activities according to the following criteria:
#1 Urgent AND important:
This is top priority activities like giving birth, grabbing the fire extinguisher, and keeping kids out of the street. Chances are, there are last minute emergency situations that you can’t always plan for but they can also be things like getting to the gas station before you run out of gas, or getting your kid to a potty before they wet themselves in Target. At the time, they trump everything and anything else.
#2 Important NOT Urgent:
This is sometimes called the “quadrant of Becoming Awesome.” They are things we need to do to get the things we want out of life. This might be spending time with your spouse, family vacations, getting an education, building a retirement fund, strengthening friendships, etc. Most of the things in this area are personal, they are rarely urgent matters, but they are the most important things in life, the things that really create your priorities and day to day focus.
#3 Urgent NOT Important:
This is your daily Instragram fix, your emergency coffee run, your lunch date, your daily drama with friends,, watching eBay auctions for things you don’t need, etc. All of those things that seem urgent and necessary, but they aren’t really truly important. These are things that give you an adrenaline rush. They make us feel productive, but are generally a waste of time. This is where most of us spend most of our time. Unless your social media is genuinely important to your business or livelihood, it’s not that important.
#4 NOT Important and NOT Urgent:
This is World of Warcraft, Battlefield III and every reality show that ever existed. It can also be your email, online shopping, videos of kittens, and of course, Facebook.
Now take a moment to think about what you did yesterday. Put each activity in a category. How much was #1 or #2, and how much was #4? Do your best to fill your top priorities and get rid of the rest. Most of us are too busy, over-committed, and obsessed with things that really don’t matter. It’s easy to focus on the urgent matters in the moment, they are right in front of you demanding resolution, but it’s the important ones that we seem to lose track of so easily.