How do you prioritise when everything seems to fall into the Urgent or Important quadrants of Stephen R Covey’s model?
I always assume that people have seen this model before, and know how it works. I guess you can think of it as a sorting-hat for tasks. If the tasks are in the top two quadrants, they’re important, and that’s where you should spend most of your time. The bottom two quadrants are for tasks that are not important, but it’s very easy to spend a lot of time there.
This is Whack-a-Mole prioritising
If you’ve ever spent your day being busy, but not feeling like you’ve made any progress on your goals, you’ve been hanging out in the Urgent zone. You’ve been working to meet deadlines and reacting to the thing in front of you – the Boss, a phone call, an email – stuff that didn’t even make it onto your To-Do List for today. This is Whack-a-Mole prioritising.
The truth is, not everything is Urgent, we just don’t get time to stop and think “which box does this really fit in?” – all the moles have to be whacked urgently. No one stops to find out where they’re coming from in the first place. No one stops to think whether we’re in the business of whacking moles either.
Much as I like Covey’s model, in my opinion it doesn’t deal with the systemic problems that teams face – of managers saying stuff in the top right quadrant is strategically important, but their behaviour doesn’t back it up. People thinking that they need to reply to an email in a nanosecond, otherwise they’re not on the ball. Colleagues making demands and causing interruptions that cascade into a wasted day.
So how do you prioritise, when everything seems urgent?