Do you know the difference between important and urgent?

Are you perpetually living life on the edge, always doing last minute work, always rushing from one place to another, always putting out one proverbial fire after another? Do you find that you seem to be doing everything but in the end, achieve nothing?

If yes, then my challenge to you is to stop living so dangerously and aimlessly. Instead, learn from the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

You might say, “who is this Dwight D. Eisenhower? Why should I learn from him?” Well, Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States. He also served as the first Supreme Commander of NATO, authorised the establishment of NASA and has consistently been considered one of the greatest U.S Presidents by both academics and the general American population.

So when a person like that gives you life advice, you better listen up.

What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.

— Dwight Eisenhower

Based on this principle, business thinker Stephen Covey created a decision making matrix to help people prioritise their time.

When applied to your life, the matrix might look something like this:

Q1. Urgent, important: crises, datelines, problems

These tasks are both urgent and important. You are required to deal with them immediately but on the bright side, they also matter significantly in your life. 

Examples

  • Studying for tomorrow’s test
  • Going for a scholarship or DSA interview
  • Visiting your critically ill relative in the hospital

With a bit of planning, many quadrants one tasks would not even be there. They would have been dealt with when they were still in quadrant two – important, but not urgent. For instance, why do you wait until the last minute before you start studying for your O levels? By being more proactive and spending more time on quadrant two, you would be able to significantly reduce the time you spend doing crisis management.

Which brings us to…

Q2. Not urgent, important: relationship-building, hobbies, long term planning

These tasks are the activities that you do not have to deal with immediately, and as a result, are pushed to the bottom of your list of priorities. However, they are the ones that will shape you (sometimes literally) into the kind of person you want to be. They are the ones that will bring you where you want to go in life. In the long run, these tasks must not be neglected if you want to be as successful and esteemed as Eisenhower.

Examples

  • Exercising regularly so that you are no longer overweight
  • Figuring out what you want to do in life
  • Reading the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s The Hard Truths
  • Learn how to play the guitar
  • Learn Korean on your own
  • Spend one uninterrupted day with your family

According to Covey, instead of letting these activities gather dust at the bottom of our priorities list, we should aim to spend more of our time on these quadrant 2 activities, as they will yield the most benefit and create lasting happiness in the long run. Remember, just because something is not urgent, does not mean it is unimportant. So make time today for some of the things in this quadrant.

Q3. Urgent, not important: interruptions

Examples

  • Posting your outfit of the day, or meal of the day, or quote of the day, or whatnot
  • Supporting your friend at his/her concert
  • Calling your best friend to complain about how annoying your project mates are
  • Running some errands for your parents (I repeat, some errands, not all errands)

Let’s face it: these activities do not result in personal growth. Sure, you might have a good time doing them and it might feel good to check something off your list. But they are not that important, unlike quadrant one tasks. To make time for the things in quadrant two, reduce the time you spend on quadrant three activities.

Q4. Not urgent, not important: distractions, time wasters

These are the activities that will help you kill time, but like fast food, they have close to zero nutritional value. If you don’t want to waste your body and life away, stop indulging in them.

Examples

  • Finishing “How I Met Your Mother season 9”
  • Stalking your crush on Facebook
  • Shopping (sorry girls!)
  • Playing DOTA (unless you foresee yourself going pro. If that is the case, sorry for judging!)

If you just had a “I wasted my life” moment after looking at the examples, have no fear. Start prioritising your time today and soon you will be on the path to achieving your long term goals.

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