A lot of people struggle with how to prioritize important tasks in their life and work, which can leave us feeling unfulfilled and like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The good news: you absolutely can learn how to prioritize your to-dos better and improve your ability to focus on the important instead of the immediate

In The 7 Habits of Highly Productive People, author Stephen Covey lays out what he called the “Time Management Matrix” – an easy way to distinguish between what’s significant and what’s not. The matrix, which is used by professionals in a wide variety of fields, is based on a famous quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower, which states that “what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Learning to tell the difference between urgent and important tasks is essential for time prioritization. It can also help you progress in the workplace and in life, giving you the ability to quickly figure out what is (and what isn’t) worth your effort. 

So how does this matrix break down?

  • Urgent and important tasks are crises, deadlines, or problems that require immediate action. 
  • Not urgent, but important tasks are those that help you strengthen your work relationships and reputation, and get you closer to achieving your long-term goals. 
  • Urgent and not important tasks are tasks that need immediate attention but don’t necessarily move you forward in any meaningful way, such as interruptions like phone calls, emails, and quick favors for coworkers. 
  • Not urgent and not important tasks are tasks that simply waste your time, including mindlessly surfing the web or social media, or doodling instead of tackling your to-do list. 

Figuring out how to prioritize tasks in the workplace and in life comes down to accurately assigning various activities to one of these matrix designations. The better you get at doing this, the better you’ll be at focusing on goal-driven, productive tasks rather than tasks that simply pass the time. 

Why Prioritizing Tasks and Time Management Is Crucial

Failing to distinguish between important and unimportant tasks can have a seriously negative impact on your future. If you can’t prioritize tasks and manage your time efficiently, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to gain recognition and respect in your field – both of which are key if you want to move up the ladder. 

Accurately prioritizing tasks will provide your days with more structure. It will also allow you to focus on what’s important and stop wasting precious time. Additionally, you’ll avoid some of the major consequences that come with giving too much of your focus to non-important tasks – creating the lasting change and spiritual fulfillment we all strive for. 

Benefits of Focusing on the Important

We live in an age of urgency, with a constant barrage of notifications, requests, and deadlines. However, when you sacrifice the important for the immediate, you also risk sacrificing your own happiness and success. 

The solution: be present. Sort your tasks according to what matters most. Don’t give too much weight to the things that don’t need to be done right away (or at all). Bringing this skill into your life will result in major benefits, including:

  • More productivity – You only have so many hours in the day, so you may as well make them count. Get more done without working more, and build a reliable barrier against the urgent but unimportant tasks that are always popping up. 
  • Improve your work-life balance – Tackling the important stuff first means you’ll end each day feeling more accomplished and won’t have to bring your work (or your stress) home with you. 
  • Stand out from the crowd – Not everyone has the power to separate the important from the immediate. Learning to prioritize tasks will give you a leg up at work and give you more opportunities to make a strong impression. 

You have a lot to gain from improving how you prioritize the checklists of life. Get the satisfaction that comes from starting and ending each day with purpose, and discover the difference that comes with focusing on what really matters.

Have other areas you want to improve? Unravel offers a community with resources designed for and open to men from all walks of life. You can also contact us for more information or with any questions you might have.