Some of the most pervasive sources of pressure in the workplace are time stressors – having too much to do and too little time. How do you beat this stress and pressure, and deliver the things that are essential to doing a good job? By using time effectively and efficiently.

Being effective as well as efficient equates to good time management, which means that we must spend our time on things that are important, not just on things that are urgent.

‘What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.’ These famous words were said by former US president Dwight Eisenhower.

There is a distinct difference between these two types of activities:

Urgent activities: These usually demand our immediate attention due to the consequences of not having dealt with them immediately, and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals. Here we are in a reactive mode where we are hurried, negative, defensive and have a narrowly focused mindset.

Important activities: Whether personally or professionally, these have an outcome that leads us to achieving our long-term goals, values and mission. Here we operate in a responsive mode, characterised by us staying calm, being open to new opportunities and being rational.

Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix was popularised by business thinker Steven Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The matrix consists of a square divided into quadrants labelled as follows:

1 Urgent/Important: These tasks require our immediate attention, and work towards fulfilling our long-term goals. Quadrant 1 is filled primarily with crises, deadlines and problems.
2 Not urgent/Important: Tasks in Quadrant 2 still help us achieve our important goals, but don’t have pressing deadlines. These tasks include planning, prevention, recognising new opportunities and relationship building.
3 Urgent/Not important: These tasks don’t help us to achieve our goals or fulfil our mission, but do require our attention urgently. These tasks include interruptions and unnecessary meetings.
4 Not urgent/Not important: These tasks are neither important nor urgent, and include time-wasting activities.

Unfortunately, most of us fall into the trap of believing that all urgent activities are also important. This mindset is intensified due to modern technology, especially social media and emails that encourage an ‘always on’ mindset. Whenever you need to do a task, first determine which of the four quadrants of the Decision Matrix it fits into before executing it.