How to Prioritize Your Work

Originally this article was titled “how to keep yourself calm when dealing with multiple deadlines”, but the simplest way to do that is to prioritize what you have to do.

Simply put, if you have a lot of stuff to do, this is how you go about handling it.

This nifty diagram was created by author Steven Covey. It’s a magical quadrant that will help you get instant clarity with what you have to do.

Here’s how it works:

  • Quadrant 1: Important and urgent.
  • Quadrant 2: Important and not urgent.
  • Quadrant 3: Not important and urgent.
  • Quadrant 4: Not important and not urgent.

Let’s look at these in detail with examples.

Quadrant 1

Quadrant 1 is when things are on fire – and not in a good way. It’s basically anything that has to be handled RIGHT NOW, otherwise you can’t go about doing other things. Common examples include:

  • You break your wrist hammering out a blog post and have to go to the emergency room.
  • Your “stuntman” accidentally slips while filming your latest skit, and you need to go the emergency room.
  • You accidentally create an explosive compound while experimenting with makeup combinations for a video and you have to clean up.

Quadrant 2

Quadrant 2 is about things that are important to your goals in life (become a top 10 youtube star, cure cancer etc), but doesn’t have to be done right now.

For example:

  • Opening a LLC to better handle your taxes.
  • Learning Final Cut Pro to make better quality videos.
  • Finding a coder to move your blog to WordPress.

In general, the more Quadrant 2 activities you do, the more you’ll move ahead in life. Whether they realize it or not, the most successful people out there, are those that spend most of their time in this quadrant.

Quadrant 3

Quadrant 3 consists of things that don’t really matter but get in your face. They are the things you do to keep you busy and give you a false sense of productivity without actually achieving anything. Common examples for new media rockstars include:

  • Picking up the phone when it rings.
  • Checking email/IM all the time.
  • Being on Facebook all the time.
  • Finishing that argument with your mom.

Quadrant 4

Quadrant 4 are all those tasks that aren’t important and aren’t urgent. You know what these are:

  • Watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
  • Playing Mass Effect 3.
  • Reading news and blogs (except Asian Efficiency and New Media Rockstars of course).
  • Watching youtube video after youtube video to catch up on your subscriptions.

Basically, these are all the things you should never be doing, unless you’ve set aside time for them when you’re on a break.

An Example of the Quadrants in Action

To show you how this all works in real life, let’s look at a sample list of things that need to be done (courtesy of Benny at NewMediaRockstars):

  • Figure out what I’m going to do for my next video.
  • Filming session – 3pm with Katie.
  • Reply to Facebook messages.
  • Clear my inbox.
  • Check Twitter for fan messages and mentions.
  • Test out new camera.
  • Reply to youtube comments.
  • Call Benny at NewMediaRockstars for a feature.
  • Set up plans for new media meetup this weekend.
  • Talk to accountant about taxes for this year.
  • Fix coding error on blog.

OK, that should be about enough. You’ll notice a couple of personal items in there – well, that’s normal. As New Media Artists, our personal and professional lives are often one and the same – we really do live what we talk about.

Let’s look at these one-by-one:
Figure out what I’m going to do for my next video.
Quadrant 2. You don’t have to do it right now, but producing content is key as a new media artist, so it’s important.

Filming session – 3pm with Katie.
Quadrant 1. It’s something that has to be done urgently (today), and something that pushes towards your goals as an artist.

Reply to Facebook messages.
Quadrant 3. Unless they’re related directly to your channel or blog, Facebook messages really aren’t all that important, even if they seem urgent.

Check Twitter for fan messages and mentions.
Quadrant 1. Twitter is pretty time-sensitive and one of those things most new media artists watch every day. It’s also important for managing your brand and fan base.

Reply to youtube comments.
Quadrant 2. Not urgent, but good for managing your fans and critics.

Call Benny at NewMediaRockstars for a feature.
Quadrant 2. Benny’s not going anywhere, but just because it’s not urgent it doesn’t mean you should put it off forever – getting featured on an industry blog only helps.

Clear my inbox.
Quadrant 3. Email, despite what most people think, really isn’t that important. It’s just mostly procrastination and a huge waste of time. If anything is super-urgent, people will call you.

Set up plans for new media meetup this weekend.
Quadrant 3. It’s urgent because people keep calling me to find out what’s going on. But it doesn’t really relate to AE’s goals all that much.

Talk to our accountant about taxes for this year.
Quadrant 1. Paying your taxes on time = important and urgent. Just one of those things you can’t put off.

Fix coding error on blog.
Quadrant 1. No site = no visitors = no traffic = the world will end. This is clear-cut Quadrant 1 – very important, and very urgent.

Action Steps

  1. Write down all the stuff you have to do.
  2. Draw the quadrant diagram.
  3. Start dropping things into the right quadrant. Everything fits somewhere.
  4. Hit Quadrant 1 first. That stuff makes or breaks you.
  5. Dip into Quadrant 3 next, dealing with anything that absolutely must be done now.
  6. Get to Quadrant 2 as soon as you can, and spend a lot of time there.
  7. You can pretty much ignore Quadrant 4 until break time on the weekend.

Photos by: LizMarie_AKJD HancockAMagillRobby Muellerdarkensivadavid spigolon

+Aaron Lynn is a blogger and efficiency aficionado. He writes about time management and personal productivity over at Asian Efficiency.