The Magic Grid

August 17, 2010

One of the activities during a recent session on work-life balance was to use the Steven Covey grid that breaks down tasks on your to-do list into one of four categories: urgent/important, not urgent/important, urgent/not important, and not urgent/not important.

I’ve written previously about a conference I recently attended that had a breakout session on “work-life balance.” One of the activities during this session was to use the Steven Covey grid that breaks down tasks on your to-do list into one of four categories: urgent/important, not urgent/important, urgent/not important, and not urgent/not important.

The idea is to move things out of the urgent/important into the not urgent/important category so that you spend less time putting out fires and more time being planful about those things that actually matter. Also, you are supposed to basically launch the not urgent/not important into the big abyss. You will never get to that stuff.

So, I carefully reflected on my current to-do list. I was corrected by my work-group partners (who clearly had read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and knew about this grid): “You can’t put ‘demands from my kids’ into the urgent/important category. That is too broad. You need to separate those things out.”

Unfortunately, teasing out my kids’ needs into these four categories is beyond my abilities at the moment. Suffice it to say, I left it. I was able to identify a number of items that could appropriately go in the not urgent/important category. Yay for me!

Then I got to the urgent/not important category. With sobering clarity, I realized how many urgent things are really not important to me. These tend to be things that are important to other people and who force their own sense of urgency onto me. It was enlightening to move things into this category (the first step to abandoning them forever).

When I got to the final category - neither important nor urgent (i.e. bury forever) - I was sobered to realize that one thing on my to-do list (that I have been procrastinating about for about a year) that truly did belong in this category, at least now, was catching up with old friends.

This is hard to admit, but true. Not having sufficient time for my husband, kids, colleagues, extended family, or close friends relegates any additional relationship building to the fringes of my time, attention, and energy.

I plan to use this grid at work to help identify fires that need to be put out (urgent/important), fires that someone else needs to put out (urgent/not important) and generate a reasonable list (my new to-do list for the not urgent/important category.

Similarly, I am trying to convince my husband to use this list at home. I suspect we will have some differences of opinion. Clearly one thing that is both urgent and important (to me at least) is to develop pictures for my son’s scrapbook. I hesitate to think about where my spouse may place that item. Maybe this is the organization tool I/we need to once and for all finally organize our lives.

I wonder, though, where “making a grid of your to-do list items” falls in the urgent/non-urgent, important/not-important spectrum?