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Start Achieving Your Long-Term Goals With This President's Task Management System

Too often, people approach to-do lists by tackling the tasks that require the least amount of time and resources in the moment--even when those tasks don't move them toward completing long-term goals.

Achievement-oriented individuals know that a different productivity concept must be used to reach big-picture goals. They understand that there's a difference between things that are urgent and things that are important--and that the two are often mutually exclusive.

For those who find making this distinction difficult, author Stephen Covey coined Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The tool is based on the way President Dwight D. Eisenhower prioritized the tasks that demanded his attention. This principle recognizes that tasks typically fall into one of four quadrants--and that we tend to complete them in this order:

  • Urgent and Important: Things that are important to do and need to be done now.

  • Urgent and Not Important: Minor tasks that are time-sensitive. It feels good to check these off our lists, but they aren't really critical.

  • Important and Not Urgent: Things that need to be done but don't have to be done immediately.

  • Not Urgent and Not Important: These tasks are neither important nor time-sensitive.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to focus energy on "Urgent and Not Important" before "Important and Not Urgent." If you continuously ignore the important things you want to accomplish long-term, those tasks will inevitably become both urgent and important. Then you will become reactive to the emergency, meaning you are completing tasks in "firefighting" mode--not the best way to accomplish anything.

On the flip side, prioritizing things that are "Urgent and Not Important" distracts you from accomplishing the tasks that are most important. It can feel good to cross seemingly urgent items off your list, but these things won't move the needle in your personal or professional life.

A few years ago, I began organizing my to-do list into the following buckets (I have put them in recommended order and outlined my thinking for each):

  • Urgent and Impor