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Chalkboard list of priorities for urgent and important items

Is Everything that’s Urgent Important?: How To Prioritize

Natalie TateNatalie Tate
Natalie Tate
Natalie Tate

As a freelancer, almost everything can feel like top priority. 

When you’re faced with deciding what takes priority - doing client work, managing business development, handling internal billing/invoicing, or any number of other issues vying for your attention - how do you decide where you'll dive in first? 

You Consult With Dwight D. Eisenhower, Of Course 

The United States’ 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, has been cited thousands of times because of a concept he shared regarding the proper way to prioritize tasks. The so-called Eisenhower Principle is based on this quote: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." 

From this quote regarding the way he chose to prioritize tasks, the Eisenhower Principle was born. 

The Eisenhower Principle forces adherents to think systematically about their responsibilities, separating out urgent and important tasks from those that are either: 

  • Important but not urgent 
  • Neither important nor urgent 

How Can the Eisenhower Principle Impact Your Freelance Success? 

As mentioned, freelancers have a full plate at almost all times. It’s truly impossible to stay on top of every responsibility - even taking one or two unexpected phone calls can throw an entire work day off its trajectory. 

By using the Eisenhower Principle, you can start each day with an understanding of which items are critical, which ones would be worthwhile achievements, and which ones should either be back burnered, delegated or ignored altogether. 

Start your morning with a to-do list, where you divide tasks into important and urgent activities, those that are less important but urgent, and those that are important activities but don’t have a set timeline. 

If that process sounds daunting, don’t worry - your organization and prioritizing skills don’t have to immediately be on par with a World War II general and brilliant military tactician who just happened to become the United States’ 34th president. 

Fortunately for you, another one of the world’s most highly effective people found a way to make this process more accessible, so you can spend less time organizing and start spending more time finishing tasks and achieving your goals. 

Your Second Consultation Regarding the Urgent Important Matrix: Stephen Covey

If you’ve been in business for any period of time, you’ve heard of Stephen Covey’s management principles and training programs. His “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is a business professional’s must-read -- a guide to successfully achieving both short-term and long-term goals in business. 

Covey made the Eisenhower principle more accessible by using it to define his 4 Quadrants (also sometimes referred to as an Eisenhower Matrix or as an Urgent Important Matrix). 

This matrix is a powerful tool for visualizing your must do list, making sifting through competing priorities easier. Its matrix/quadrants are arranged based on amount of effort and level of importance. 

Why The Urgent Important Matrix Is A Powerful Resource For Organizing Your Freelance Responsibilities 

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? 

The same goes for the urgent important matrix. It gives you a good visual understanding of what you’re spending your time on and whether you could allocate it more wisely. 

How You Can Put The Eisenhower Principle Into Practice 

Let's get started applying the principle from a practical perspective. Get out your notebook, or log into your task tracking tool, then start emptying your brain of all your must-do items. 

You can start by just jotting or keying in notes via stream of consciousness; you’ll organize them later. After you feel confident that you’ve got a handle on your upcoming responsibilities and action items, start sorting them. 

You can key them in a digital tracker with tags for important/not important and urgent/not urgent. On paper, you can draw out your X and Y axis and start filling them in where appropriate. 

While laying out your matrix on paper may make it easier to visualize the first few times, plugging it into an online tool makes adding, editing or maintaining a list over time easier, so re-working it each week is not necessary

You should easily be able to figure out which items deserve your time and brain power - the ones that are both urgent and important. Then, you can dedicate yourself accordingly. 

It’s likely you’ll also start to see some interesting trends regarding your project management and time allocation. 

For example, if you start mapping out your tasks and tracking the time associated with them, you may find you’re spending all your resources in quadrant “urgent but not important.” You should probably find a way to offload some of those tasks. 

It might mean changing your daily routine/schedule or finding a person to whom you can outsource some of these arduous, unfulfilling tasks. 

The biggest benefit you’ll gain from utilizing an urgent important matrix? Feeling like you have greater control over your time/resources. 

Often, that’s why people choose to go into freelance work - so they can manage themselves, enjoy flexibility and achieve long term goals. When you’re able to identify what’s really priority to you, you’ll feel more in charge of your own work and destiny, and more empowered to succeed.

Natalie Tate
Natalie Tate writes content that connects with clients' needs and helps them reach their target audiences. She's been a writer and marketer for almost 15 years and a full-time freelancer for the past three years. She considers her freelance work a form of storytelling and loves being able to make people's lives a little better through the words she shares on behalf of her clients. Natalie currently lives in Texas where she divides her time between work, family and community volunteerism. Her areas of expertise include marketing, PR, content strategy and long-form content creation.

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