Piecing Together Priorities


There are so many things competing for our time these days. Between work (which has its own sub-list!) and home (including spouse, kids, household maintenance, church, extended family obligations, friends . . . well, you get the picture!) – it seems like everything and everyone are vying for our attention. As a result, some days we just flit from one fire to another – and in the evening feel like nothing was accomplished. If that makes you think you need to hone up your time management skills – you’re right! But, there is a crucial step to take, and most people miss, before you try to put a schedule in place. So here’s a little tool—passed on to me from my husband—that might make that a bit easier.

It involves establishing your priorities, and as a natural outgrowth what activities fall into those areas. For this visual to be really useful, you have to take a moment and decide how you define the following terms: Þ URGENT Þ IMPORTANT.
My thoughts: Urgent is defined as any activity that is immediately life-threatening to you or a loved-one. Important is defined as something that has eternal significance. The intensity of those definitions is important because it helps you make clear distinctions between your activities. There are four categories:

  • #1: Important and Urgent
  • #2: Important and Not Urgent
  • #3: Not Important and Urgent
  • #4: Not Important and Not Urgent

The activities in our lives can be described and are found in all 4 pieces. The easiest to place are those in the #1 and #4 spaces. Examples of #1 would be dealing with a sick or injured child, getting to or making a long-awaited (or needed) medical appointment, or getting our taxes done. #4 examples would be (excessive) TV watching, computer-surfing or any other amusement that encourages lazy or careless behavior. The #2 and #3 spaces will vary between individuals, and will take time and thought on your part.

As I’ve begun to work through this tool for myself, I’ve noticed an interesting development. I’m finding that as this process becomes more automatic, my “time management problems” are pretty much taking care of themselves! So, if you want to try this, go grab a piece of paper and pen, get comfy, and just start writing down all the activities you do in a day. Be as specific or general as your personality allows – but it does make it easier-in-the-long-run if you lean towards the former.

For example, the general activity “cleaning” might merit placement in #4, but the more-specific “vacuum”, “wash dishes” and “scrub toilets” can definitely become a #1 if left ‘till company comes, or become a #2 if placed in a daily chore list.

Then, print out this page – or at least the visual and chart – and rate each activity. Which pieces tend to fill up? Which one/s is/are empty?

Our goal should be to spend as much time as possible in the #2 space. By taking some time to think about what we do each day, and placing those activities in the relevant puzzle piece, we can see the bigger picture of our lives, and how all our activities fit together. From this point, it’s just “tweak as needed”! You’ll find that this process is never really complete, however, and can be a great tool for the constant review-and analyze we need to do as activities and opportunities pop up in our lives. Keeping this tool close at hand can help us manage the choices we make daily and therefore help us manage our time well. It’s a great way to control both our personal stress level and the degree of effectiveness we can experience each day.

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