Prioritizing urgent and important tasks

Urgent Vs. Important

Prioritizing a to do list can be very difficult. It is easy to get caught up working on a time-consuming task and suddenly realized that you’re in jeopardy of missing a critical deadline. Soon you could find yourself frantically multitasking on several projects at once and failing to complete any of them.

urgent vs important meme

When prioritizing assignments, we often neglect to distinguish urgent from important tasks.

Here are the definitions as defined by  Mind Tools

  • Important activities have an outcome that leads to us achieving our goals, whether these are professional or personal.
  • Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.


There are several techniques that can be used to help you learn how to effectively prioritize tasks, the one that I find the most useful is the Eisenhower box.


Eisenhower box

Here is an overview to provide a basic understanding of the tool:

Quadrant 4 – Delete
Not Urgent and Not Important tasks should be deleted. This activities are the time wasters and trivial tasks. things that do not add value to your life, are distractions and delay work related to roles and responsibilities.

Quadrant 3 – Delegate (the trap)
Not Important and Urgent tasks should be Delegated. These tasks typically revolve around helping others. Often time consuming, these tasks can distract you from the important work that is required of you. To stay out of this trap, delegate these tasks.

Quadrant 2 -Decide
Urgent and Not Important tasks require a decision. Where can and should these fall in your priority list? Examples include strategic planning, collecting and analyzing data needed for reporting metrics etc.

Quadrant 1 – Do it!
Urgent and Important. This is what you are paid to do.  These are the critical tasks, life threatening, data driven deadlines, the “if you fail to complete them you could lose your job” tasks.

Once you’ve determined what quadrant the tasks fall into, you can more easily prioritize the “To do” list.

What other tools and techniques do you use when prioritizing your task list? 



These articles and blog posts will provide additional details on how to categories tasks into the different quadrants:

How to use Stephen Covey’s time management matrix

Eisenhower decision matrix

The urgent important matrix

Eisenhower box preview

Eisenhower’s box

There is an app for that, or paper if you prefer:


Here is a little jingle to help motivate you when working on urgent tasks.




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