Managing priorities

Running any business requires multi-tasking using a ridiculously wide range of skills.  How do you keep track of it all?  How do you know what’s most important, and how can you focus on what’s most important?

In his landmark book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey explains that we need to separate the urgent from the not urgent, and we need to separate the important from the not important.  Something urgent must get completed immediately – it’s an emergency, a fire to put out quickly.  Something important is will help you reach your goals.

So first of all, you must know what your goals are.  What are you trying to accomplish?

Next, define tasks according to Covey’s 4-Quadrant system:

I – Important and Urgent       II – Important but Not Urgent
III – Not Important but Urgent       IV – Not Important, Not Urgent

Quadrant I crises will always get taken care of.  These are the major emergencies that can’t wait.

Most people (myself included) get bogged down into quadrants III and IV, focusing on items that are not particularly important to meeting our goals, many of which seem urgent.  Most mail, meetings, phone calls fall into these categories.  They are tasks that we feel that we must do – even if they don’t matter very much.

Quadrant II usually requires our focused attention.  These important but not urgent items help us build up relationships, find new opportunities, and plan for the future.  Best of all, focus on Quadrant II tends to prevent Quadrant I emergencies, and keep us from wasting time in Quadrants III and IV.

I set aside a few hours a week to focus on Quadrant II.  I remind myself of my goals, plan my calendar, and think about how to work quicker, smarter, better.

About Mark P. Holtzman

Chair of Accounting Department at Seton Hall University. PhD from The University of Texas at Austin. Worked at Deloitte's New York Office. BSBA from Hofstra University.

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