The first post in this series is about how prioritization systems don’t work. This post continues that discussion.

Setting the Stage

As an employee, you may have your priorities determined for you at some level. You may also be told how they spend your time. However, you have much more control than you may think about how you use your time.

If you are going to be successful as a high performer, your success is your responsibility. You own the results that you create. Your success is because of your good choices. When you fail (and you will fail), it is because of your poor choices. So, how you use your time is also your responsibly.

Determining Priorities

Determining priorities is a decision-making process that can be created with a simple equation. That equation is a combined decision of any activity’s importance and urgency.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was known for making every minute count. He used principles of determining anything that needed his action by classifying how important and urgent he determined the matter to be. Unfortunately, the details of his system are unknown.

“What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent and
What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

Stephen Covey developed Eisenhower’s labels of important and urgent in to a matrix (A.K.A. the Eisenhower Decision Matrix) . Dr. Covey wrote the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. In that book and in Habit 3, “Put First Things First”, Dr. Covey introduces the four-quadrant matrix where all activities can be placed in one of four quadrants based on their importance and their urgency.

Importance and Urgency can be defined:


An activity that you find personally valuable.
Important activities contribute to your purpose or direction, your standards, and aspirations.


An activity that you or someone else feel demands immediate action.
Urgent activities force a decision the moment that you become aware.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

The matrix provides a tool for a leader to make decisions about any activity by placing the activity in one of these quadrants. All activities can be placed in this matrix by determining importance and urgency.


Not Urgent



  • Pressing problems that affect you or something you care about.
  • Any crises that requires your action
  • Problems that affect you or something you care about that has an immediate deadline


  • Planning
  • Relationship building (which takes time and repetition)
  • Spending time thinking about and recognizing new opportunities
  • Recreation (AKA. “re-creation”) activities that help you refresh
  • Activities that help prevent urgent future action

Not Important


  • Unnecessary interruptions
  • Phone calls that you don’t need to take
  • “Junk” mail/email
  • Reports that don’t create an important activity for you or anyone else
  • Meetings that don’t require action from you
  • Popular activities that appear important because of who is involved


  • Trivial activates that don’t create any result
  • Busy work
  • Some mail/email that does not help you or anyone else
  • Some phone calls that do not create a result that you care about.
  • Time wasters that simply fill time
  • “Escape” activities or anything that takes you away more meaningful activities


This month, I am posting about how to prioritize your activities. Get the free companion worksheet that will accompany all posts this month.

Free Companion PDF

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