A client was frustrated that he and his team were not making progress on technology enhancement objectives.

Project goals were being met, but there was not enough time to work on improving the technology that would make future projects faster or higher quality.

Here red10s Sarah Barber talks about how the urgency/ importance matrix can help.

The urgency/importance matrix

In a speech made in 1954, Eisenhower said “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.”

This idea has been built upon to create a 2×2 matrix that can be used to classify and manage tasks or objectives.

How to use the matrix

To return to my client’s problem. Project goals were both urgent and important and were getting done.

Technology improvement goals were important but not urgent, so were not getting sufficient focus.

The matrix suggests the first way to tackle this – which is to purposefully plan time to spend on the improvement goals. We are much more likely to make progress if we schedule time to do it.

At the same time, we can free-up time with our approach to tasks that are not important. If a task is neither important nor urgent, can you avoid doing it altogether?

Other approaches to minimise time spent on unimportant work include automation, creation of templates and delegation to someone who might be able to complete the task more easily and quickly.

Breaking important goals into smaller, more achievable chunks

A stretching important goal may seem daunting. We are more likely to make progress if we break it into smaller, more achievable objectives that are still impactful.

Further advice on how to do this is given by Alice Boyes in this HBR article

Extra Advice

One of the points that Alice Boyes makes is that it is easy to lose sight of what is important when we are engaged in the daily grind. She recommends that you prioritise whatever it is that allows you to lift your head, take an overview and remind yourself what is important to you.

In a similar way, the late Stephen Covey recommends that the most important thing to prioritise is increasing capacity. In his classic book, the 7-habits of highly effective people, he argues that effectiveness can be expressed in terms of P/PC ratio, where P refers to production and PC refers to production capacity or the care for that which produces the results.

What do you suggest?

It is never going to be easy to find the time to pursue these important goals amongst all the urgent things competing for attention.  Try some of these ideas and see whether they help – we would love to hear how you get on.