With today’s always-on workforce, we get tasks thrown at us constantly.

And now that people can access work emails and instant messages on their Smartphones, lines can get blurred as to when these tasks are expected to be received, and completed. Especially if we want to portray ourselves as hard workers and build a reputation for getting work done quickly.

While people might be able to rate the importance of tasks they receive quite well, what often gets complicated is assessing the priority of these tasks to make sure you end up having a productive day.

After all, we have all had days when we have been busy the whole time, but at the end of the day don’t feel like we have achieved much.

This is because you may have been working on tasks which were urgent, but not important.

This can be especially challenging when someone sends you a task which they consider urgent. Simply the act of them delegating it to you (by handing over the task to you by email or instant message), and them knowing that you are likely to have received the task almost instantly, can create a false urgency about when they can expect you to complete it.

So how do we assess which tasks should be worked on?

It might be useful to use the following tool:

Eisenhower Decision Matrix

This method stems from a quote attributed to former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

By assessing whether tasks are urgent / important, you can then plot them onto the following matrix, and decide the most logical thing to do with them.

Here is what to do with tasks of each type:

  • Important/Urgent quadrant tasks (Do) are done immediately and personally, e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.
  • Important/Not Urgent quadrant tasks (Decide) get an end date and are done personally, e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.
  • Unimportant/Urgent quadrant tasks (Delegate) are delegated, e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.
  • Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant tasks (Delete) are dropped, e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia

Have you ever got stuck doing work which seemed urgent, but was not important? Let me know.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.