Does it feel like almost everything you do is both important and urgent? Do you feel like a one-person bucket brigade, constantly running from fire to fire? If so, you may be operating from a Quadrant One mindset. A day or two filled with highly urgent and important activities can sometimes be a rush! You’ll feel like you’re crashing through loads of important tasks and making great headway. But it can’t last.
This mindset is highly ineffective because you’re working in crisis mode—everything you’re working on is due right now. Crises manage you—it’s almost never the other way around. In Quadrant One, you don’t have time to think through the work you’re doing and give your best effort to the task. You’re simply working to get it done. It takes energy and enthusiasm to operate at that pace, and it’s hard to sustain.
Because you’re constantly working on urgent tasks, the other tasks in your queue spill over onto you—burying you in more urgent tasks until you fall hopelessly behind. Your ability to produce diminishes and your productivity suffers. Crisis management is never a good place to operate from financially. Your performance will ultimately affect your company’s bottom line.
Some Quadrant One Activities Can’t Be Avoided. Family emergencies come up from time to time. A child may become sick, or be born with challenges that you aren’t prepared to manage, forcing you to set aside other things until you can get your feet under you. Every job has its deadlines, and you may need to work later to meet them. Those things are normal, but we don’t have to remain reactionary. We can choose to be proactive even when things don’t go as expected.
That said, many Quadrant One situations are self-made—and that’s good news! If you find that you are always working late on the deadline, if you are continually rushing through yesterday’s work before you can start today’s list, if you find yourself distracted with trivial matters at the expense of important tasks, you are creating Quadrant One situations. Here’s the encouraging part: If you have the power to create the situation, you also have the power to stop doing that to yourself—but how?
Resist Interruptions. Every time you say, “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. You can’t dig your way out of a hole. When you are asked to do an urgent task that isn’t related to your goals, consider it closely. Is it truly an emergency? Can you schedule it for later? Is this interruption vital right now? Often simply explaining your situation, kindly expressing your desire to help, and asking if you can schedule it for another time, is all you need to do to ensure you’re working on more important matters first.
Plan Your Escape. Take whatever time you need to write your list of urgent tasks in your planner. Note your progress toward each task, and list the remaining steps required to finish each one. Schedule each step on your Prioritized Daily Task Lists starting with the tasks that are nearest to completion and working through those tasks that are the furthest from complete. Contact anyone who may be waiting for your work and let them know when you’ll be finished. If any of your tasks have hard deadlines, be sure they are scheduled in time for you to meet those deadlines, or make arrangements to alter the deadlines if possible.
Delegate. If you have tasks on your list that you haven’t done much with, consider delegating them to someone else. You may not want to put people out or give them your problems, but try it anyway. Your friends, family, or co-workers may surprise you.
If you’re hording tasks because you worry that no one else will do them the way you feel they should be done, stop it. You could easily find several perfectly capable people to lift your burden. Remember that finished is often better than perfect, and delegating tasks is a great way of demonstrating trust and building confidence in others.
Plan For Success. As you follow your escape plan, delegate, and work through your urgent tasks, you’ll climb out of Quadrant One. When you do, make sure you climb into Quadrant Two. Quadrant Two is where the magic happens. The key to keeping time robbers and urgent emergencies at bay is through proper planning:
- Take fifteen minutes each week and a few minutes each day to think through your upcoming tasks.
- Decide which items matter most to you.
- Schedule your important tasks each week—long before they become urgent.
- Set aside time each day for your scheduled appointments first, and decide how much time you have left to devote to tasks.
- Only schedule tasks that you can accomplish in the time you have available.
- Allow time in your day for emergencies, unexpected events, or projects that go overtime.
Ideally, we’d all spend most of our time working on Quadrant Two activities—and you can as you shift your mindset through consistent weekly and daily planning.