Prioritize new tasks with two simple questions

Triage is something that we usually associate with a hospital emergency room, the term for all the decisions required to prioritize the treatment of patients based on the severity of their needs. 

But that sort of prioritization process can be very relevant to your work day—call it “time management triage.” You can’t always predict who is going to walk through the door next or what they might ask of you, much less what might hit your inbox the next time it dings. But, just like a well-run emergency room, you need to have a strategy for how to handle any eventuality. 

As we presented in The Eisenhower Matrix: 4 rules for getting more done faster, the Eisenhower Matrix is a simple-to-use tool that helps you quickly prioritize tasks and requests as they come your way. The core insight to the Matrix is that your productive time is best spent on tasks that directly support your personal and professional goals. It works by asking two questions of every new task or request: Is it important to my goals? And is it urgent to me?

With those answers in mind, locate the appropriate Matrix quadrant and take the recommended action. The important and urgent tasks that qualify for Quadrant 1 need to get done quickly; unimportant and not-urgent tasks appropriate for Quadrant 4 should be avoided or politely declined. 

The Eisenhower Matrix is not intended for highly complex decisions. Rather, think of it as a first step in prioritizing new projects as they arise during a meeting or when you’re reading an email. Getting into this habit can speed up prioritization and improve your decision making. 

The gentle art of learning to say “no” when you’re overbooked is a whole other discussion…