Important vs Urgent

One important key to time management is recognizing the difference between things that are important and things that are urgent. Let me show this graphically:

  Urgent Not Urgent
Important Quadrant 1 Quadrant 2
Not Important Quadrant 3 Quadrant 4


Quadrant 1

In Quadrant 1, we have the tasks that are both important and urgent. These are things like:

  • Finishing the PC100 demo
  • Talking to a potential customer
  • Fixing a problem with our online order system

We don’t need to worry about getting these tasks done since they are always at the top of the list which is where they belong.

Quadrant 2

In this quadrant, we have the tasks that are important but not urgent. These are things like:

  • Fixing a program bug
  • Improving product information
  • Making our web site easier to navigate

These are the tasks that we need to really focus on and make sure they get done. Because they are not urgent, we tend to put them off. A lot of “sharpening the saw” items fall into this quadrant.

Quadrant 3

In Quadrant 3, we have the real time killers. These are the things that are urgent but not important. Some examples are:

  • Answering the phone
  • Checking e-mail constantly
  • Some meetings
  • Drop-in visitors

It is amazing how much power the telephone has over our lives. If you are visiting someone, and the phone rings, what do they do? Answer it and make you wait! Sometimes you feel like going to the next room and calling them too. Of course, sometimes we get important phone calls or e-mails but it is amazing how much time unimportant phone calls or e-mails can steal from us.

The important thing about Quadrant 3 items is to be sure to schedule them after Quadrant 2 items.

Quadrant 4

In this quadrant we have the things that are not important and not urgent. Some of these might include:

  • Making a piece of code “more clever”
  • Putting a clever gadget on our web site
  • Responding to a survey
  • Reading another computer magazine
  • Changing Windows colors
  • Making our e-mails look really pretty

Most of the time we can recognize Quadrant 4 items and don’t do them. However, sometimes there are Quadrant 4 items that we really want to do. In this case, they can be used to reward ourselves after we finish up all our other tasks.


Sometimes it is hard to judge exactly which quadrant a particular task should fall into. When judging whether an item is important or not, we need to look at our weekly and long term goals to see if it will help us achieve it.

However, the real power of the Important vs Urgent grid is to recognize that we should always make sure that tasks which are important come before tasks which are urgent.

Important vs Urgent

We all get caught up in our day-to-day work with things that are urgent, but not always very important. It is critical to recognize this and spend time on things that are important and not urgent, if we really want to accomplish great things.


The first time I ran across this principle was during my Dale Carnegie Management Seminar. However, I have also seen similar discussions in many other places.