Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has become a life-altering book for many. In that book, Covey advises prioritizing one’s time by balancing urgency and importance. He presents a grid with four quadrants. Items in quadrant I are important and urgent (crises, deadline-driven projects); items in II are important but not urgent (planning, relationship building); items in III are not important but urgent (interruptions, meetings, reports); and those in IV are not important and not urgent (busy work, time wasters). Almost everyone agrees that Covey’s principle is sound. But people are often challenged with applying the principle in a practical way.
In Covey’s model, the urgency scale pretty much takes care of itself. Phones ringing, clients calling with problems, e-mails arriving from the boss almost by the minute— these are all easy mechanisms that help us define urgency. But what defines importance? That seems to be our biggest challenge.
We contend that role-based outcomes provide the answer to that challenge for the workplace. One of the key differentiators between top and average performers is that top performers know what to focus on; they implicitly use a few proven outcomes to determine what is important and what is not.
It seems that in today’s world, everything is urgent. So urgency itself is not an adequate measure for the workplace. Again, we can turn to top performers for a clearer meaning of urgent. A clear differentiator among top performers is that they focus the right amount of time and energy—attention—on what they deem important. We use the word attention deliberately and will explain our interpretation in a future post. We’ll also begin to draw on real scenarios to illustrate the balance between attention and importance and how understanding our role-based outcomes helps achieve the focus required for success today.
Question to ponder: How do you decide where to focus your attention?