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Prioritize What You Do – Steven Covey Way [The Way That Works]


Got tons of stuff to do? Do not know where to start? Cannot choose one thing one over another? Juggling too many things at once?Another day’s gone and you look back scratching your head asking yourself “what have I accomplished today?”

You need to prioritize to achieve results while keeping sane lifestyle. But how do you prioritize one thing over another?

Adopt Steven Covey’s advice – Urgent/Important quadrants as he outlines it in his First Things First book. It works for me and it should work for you too.

Steven Covey offers simple technique – Urgent/Important quadrants – to prioritize your activities should your care for achieving results.

Chance Brown shares absolutely coolest mindmap images of the concept.

Below is how it’s represented on Wikipedia:

Steven Covey Time Management

Important but not Urgent

Focus here. This is the main focus area. Day-to-day work. Directly impacts your personal achievement. This quadrant includes the following areas:

Important and Urgent

Switch quickly. Identify the event as Important and Urgent. quickly switch, enter [SWAT/under fire] mode (custody of J.D. Meier). Hit the goal. Return to “Important but not Urgent”  quadrant (usually recreation).

  • Emergency.
  • Urgent family matters.
  • Lifetime opportunity.
  • Disaster.

Not Important but Urgent

“Say NO until your tongue bleeds” – adopt this advice from Harvey Mackay. For more cool real world advices read his book – Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your CompetitionThe technique seem to produce more enemies than friends, but in the long run it pays off. You are your best friend. Take care for yourself first when you need to balance your time (notice – you are in “Not Important” quadrant!).

Not Important and not Urgent

Careful. Do not mix this one with recreation in the “Important but not Urgent” quadrant. Stay away from this one! Just stay away from it.

  • Trivia.
  • Busywork.
  • Email shuffling.
  • Time wasters.

Self test

  • Define your life projects. Do you know what you spend your life for? If you do – can you write down it as a simple list?
  • Set goals in each. Do you know what you want to achieve? If you are – can you write down it as a simple list?
  • Allocate time. Are you aware of how much time you invest in your life time projects? If you are – how much for each project?

More details in Time Management – Do You Control Your Life Or Life Controls You?


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23 June 2008


  • Vered said:

    “Stay away from this one! Just stay away from it.”

    Absolutely. And you do need to learn to set up boundaries and say “no” to do that.

  • Shilpan | successsoul.com said:

    Alik -

    I liked the way you advised us to stay away from the “Time Vampires”. I guess everything boils down to one thing in a nut shell – Do you value your time?


  • alik levin (author) said:

    Boundaries is key. In other words – allocate time proactively and stay within the allocated time.

    Great point! 100%. The other question to ask is “Do you value others time?”. Valuing others time express respect and builds rapport. Are you helping people to focus on their “Important and Not Urgent” quadrant? Are you dragging them into “Not Important/Urgent” quadrant for nothing? Or worse, are you wasting others time dragging then into “Not Important/Not Urgent” quadrant?

  • Mike King said:

    This is great stuff alik. I really like this content from Covey as well and have always found it valuable to organize incoming tasks. You have a clear outline described here and like thinking about it with such a simple self test. Good stuff!

  • Aman Preet said:


  • A Guide To Prioritizing By Needs: Tasks You Should Do - Practical advice on personal development, productivity and GTD said:

    [...] work seems alien to you, this system may not be for you. If you are a fan of Stephen Covey’s four quadrants you may see similarities between the “should” stage and the important/not [...]

  • The Recipe For Intentional Life — Practice This said:

    [...] To manage it wisely you need to Prioritize What You Do – Steven Covey Way [The Way That Works] [...]

  • Personal Improvement - Kaizen Focus On Process — Practice This said:

    [...] Prioritize What You Do – Steven Covey Way [The Way That Works] [...]

  • Being highly effective | vetpad said:

    [...] non-urgent but important tasks of planning, prioritising, communicating, reflecting, blogging etc. Alik Levin’s blog sums this up [...]

  • How To Get What You Want In Life | Present Outlook said:

    [...] Work out your priorities. Which goals are you going to really go for? Make those things your priorities in your daily life. [...]

  • liton said:

    at first a person need to know his source of power( talent) you will know what you have in you pay attention to it and be the best of you. dont believe in ‘ you can be whatever you want to be but you can be master or great at what you already being’

  • Prioritize, Organize…Just get it done already! « Mahogany's Metamorphosis said:

    [...] one of my first items on the list is to wake up at 7am and complete an AM workout.  I like what this blog wrote on prioritization, and I borrowed their image, but it’s exactly what I needed to make [...]

  • Cynthia Clark said:

    It seems to me the operative word here is priorities. At work or home, it is amplified in the important and urgent quadrant. Makes sense when making plans and writing lists.

  • Mark said:

    There’s one thing nobody ever explained to me that renders this model unusable to me (I think). My management/customer/whoever would throw at me tons of things important to them, with the message that they ALL have to be done quickly and the resources to delegate them are close to zero (or take more time to supervise than to do by oneself). Among them are things important to me as well or for both sides (by the means of bonus or otherwise). But he would set a very aggressive timeline, and won’t accept any long estimates. There are so many things that, over time, most of them find their way into the firefighting quandrant. Then the manager would complain that some of the things are not done, including some long standing things to “keep an eye on” and ask how I imagine to continue to work together that way ? He would just point out how long ago certain things were asked for, hoping to take away the “no time” response from me. This has happened to me in multiple jobs. So my question is – is it bad luck, or bad self-management ? Doesn’t that happen to most people and lead them to think that they have problems with time management, whereas they either have problems with their environment, or personal effectiveness?

  • alik levin (author) said:

    Q. it bad luck, or bad self-management ?
    A. Has nothing to do with luck. Has little to do with sel-management. Has ton to do with managing your manager. Have the list of tasks/outcomes desired by your manager – give it to him and ask to prioritize it, each of them. Ask him to allocate time to each. In short, put his fingerprints on your work, Turn him (chicken) in a pig – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chicken_and_the_Pig

    Q. Doesn’t that happen to most people and lead them to think that they have problems with time management, whereas they either have problems with their environment, or personal effectiveness?
    A. It happens to all people. It is how to respond to this. Managing your manager is the trick.

  • Time Management | Freelance Consulting Advice said:

    [...] – Prioritize. Be ruthless and prioritise according to importance and urgency. [...]

  • We Like It Here » Balancing the urgent and the important (while the Strib fans the flames) said:

    [...] right balance to strike: the only valuable thing I ever got out of a Steven Covey seminar was the urgent/important matrix: we need to be spending more time in that upper right [...]

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