Prioritize Tasks Using the Decision Matrix

RestaurantDo you manage urgency, or rather urgently manage, the events of your life?  Simple living is made possible when we  focus on the long term important issues so they do not become short-term critical emergencies due to lack of planning and execution.

In a former life, I was a restaurant owner.  In the heat of battle, called rush hour, each employee would be fully engaged to ensure the customer had an enjoyable visit.  But the urgency the employee experienced was manageable provided  the important prep work had been performed.  If, however, the prior shift had not refilled containers, restocked,  or had missed any one of a hundred separate items needing to be done, the next rush hour would deteriorate into  high-stress chaos, as workers found themselves empty handed and unable to serve as intended.

Consistency and reliability were key.  While careful prep work was neither glamorous nor seemingly important during calm times,  it became the chain that held the process together in times of stress.

The rhythm of life can be thrown off track when we encounter a broken link.  But with a little prior planning, and attention to detail, urgent chaos can be avoided and turned into seamless flow.  Exercising prior planning, within the appropriate time frame, means you are acting with intention, rather than reacting out of desperation.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous quote on the principle of decision-making, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”, was further developed by business thinker, Steven Covey, in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Covey developed a decision-making matrix, to help us prioritize which things require our immediate attention, and marginalize that with lesser priority.


If a task is both Important and Urgent, it requires our immediate attention, and so Quadrant 1 gets first priority.  If a task is Important, not Urgent (Quadrant 2), it gets second priority.  If a task is Urgent, Not Important (Quadrant 3), it is urgent to someone else, but not important to us, and gets third priority status.  If a task is Not Important, Not Urgent (Quadrant 4), it has least priority, and generally should not be included on a daily planning list.

To take a lesson from my restaurant days, the more time we spend in Quadrant 2, taking care of the long term tasks, and preparing for the inevitable “rush hour”, the less time we will have to spend in Quadrant 1.  A simpler and more peaceful life depends on it.

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For further reading on this topic, we encourage you to check out Joshua Becker’s, “Minimalism, Blackberries, and the Tyranny of the Urgent“, and Michael Hyatt’s, “Is that Task Important or Merely Urgent?



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