2.2.3 Sorting the important


2.2.3 Sorting the important

Topic Progress:

We will feel overwhelmed and stressed when everything we have on our plates feels equally important and urgent – when we cannot distinguish what is most important from the least important stuff.

In our last 2 topics we drilled down on what is important to us and our organisation.

Stephen Covey said that we are

“always saying ‘no’ to something. If it isn’t to the apparent, urgent things in your life, it is probably to the more fundamental, highly important things” (p. 157 – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey). 

Our problem is that we might not be saying no enough! But how can we say no when it is not clear to us what we should be saying yes to?

Stephen Covey developed a Time Management Matrix to help sort our stuff in terms of urgent and important.

This model says that we spend our time on activities that can be described in terms of:

1. Urgency – Demand our immediate attention, feel impossible to ignore, are usually ‘in our face’ and tend to ‘act on us’.
2. Importance – Produces results, improvement and contribute to outcomes that we value, such as our mission or the high priority goals.

“We react to urgent things – important things require more initiative, more proactivity.” (Stephen Covey)

Our effectiveness is influenced by how much time we devote to achieving important – non-urgent things. The more time we spend on Quadrant II activities, the smaller the Quadrant I becomes because we prevent many of the important crisis (ie. medications errors, or incidents, staff burn out), instead of waiting for them to happen and then having to react to them.

However, you have to be very clear about your purpose – what is important – in order to stay focused and not get diverted by things that are urgent, but not important.


Download the worksheets:

  • Considering your definition of ‘important’, list what are you doing in each quadrant in terms of your job?  Consider the organisation’s mission and strategic directions; staff and patient needs; your role in developing the capacity of yourself, your team and ensuring their efforts are amplified (developing and reviewing systems, processes and practices)
  • Circle the the things that seem to take up most of your time?
  • Using a different colour, circle the things that you you spend most of your time on to best achieve the important stuff – like yours and your organisation’s mission and values.
  • If there is a difference what might stop you from changing this mix?
  • What could you do instead?
  • Over the next week, log what you spend time on in your diary.  How does this compare to what you estimated? Are you satisfied with how you are spending time? If not, what would you need to change?


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