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The Urgent-Important Matrix

Owning an IT consulting business and living in the San Francisco Bay Area has afforded me a front-row seat to the impact of technology on our lives. This is Ground Zero for many new tech “innovations”, and an excellent social study on the positive and negative effects of these tools on the lives of the people they are meant to serve.

A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Urgent-Important Matrix as a way of prioritizing my day, and have found it a useful tool for deciding when and when not to allow tech distractions into my personal and professional life.


First, two definitions:

  • Urgency relates to time. A task with a deadline of tomorrow [Urgent] commands your attention (and stress and frustration) more so that one due next week [Not Urgent].

  • Importance relates to the priority of the work. These are the main goals of whatever you’re doing; the things that, if completed, bring fulfillment, recognition, and accomplishment . They need your focus and time to complete successfully.

So how does one control the use of technology to enhance their productivity?

BOX 1: Urgent + Important: Address these activities ahead of all others. They involve deadlines [Urgent] and address your main objectives [Important]. Missing them has consequences, and you must restrict which tech devices and what non-essential information you respond to while on these activities.

BOX 2: Not Urgent + Important: Consciously dedicate time to complete these activities before they become Urgent + Important. Guard against procrastinating habits that keep you from tackling these activities, like checking your social media feeds, playing games, and watching cat videos! Set your devices to “do not disturb”; remove your smart watch; turn off notifications on your computer; and tell your colleagues/family you need quiet time.

BOX 3: Urgent + Not Important: Try to reschedule or delegate these activities, which are probably urgent to the people making the requests but not to you. There are consequences to telling your supervisor / client / friend / family that you’ll get to something “later”, and for this reason we often find it difficult to control this activity group and set our boundaries. And the more tech-connected you are, the more easily each of these groups is going to find you. Consequently, most of our time is spent in this category of tasks, also known as “putting out fires”, “slaying dragons”, or “dealing with the crisis of the day”.

BOX 4: Not Urgent + Not Important: These are distractions to be eliminated. Examples include watching TV, aimlessly surfing the web, and browsing your social media feeds. Spending your time in this bucket leads you nowhere.

You can read more about the urgent-important matrix here.

If the urgent-important matrix is the scientific formula for taking control of your life, being present is the secret sauce that binds it together. We’ll talk about this concept in my next post.