Thursday, September 25, 2014

Winning the skirmishes but losing the war

We are sometimes so caught up with our lives that we neglect the big picture. We often keep doing the things that are urgent, but forget about the things that are less urgent but nevertheless are important.

Study the matrix above.

Urgent means that it has a time factor to it. It needs to be done as soon as possible in order to meet datelines that are either self-imposed or externally imposed. Important means that it fulfills certain long term goals or mission.

Quadrant 1 are the tasks that are both urgent and important. These are crises situation and are emergencies. Priority should be given to these. But how many crises situation are there in a day? If everything is a crisis, your workflow is not set up yet, so you might need to work on that. An example of such a situation is when your client calls you for an important presentation that may lead to a sale. Everything else needs to be put on hold while you pursue this lead.

Quadrant 2 are the tasks that are not urgent but are important. These are the tasks that are often neglected because of the lack of urgency. A good example is retirement planning. Retirement is a goal that is years away for working adults but if you don't start planning now, it might reach a point of no return. So for such situation, we need to sit down and think about what are the things that are potentially urgent in the future and has great impact on your life. These, we need to do long term planning. You can probably delay for a week or two, but certainly not delay in years.

Quadrant 3 are the tasks that are urgent but not important. At best, these are interruptions to your workflow. It could be your boss asking you for yet another board meeting. It could be your mum asking you to get something for her while you are doing your work.

Quadrant 4 are the tasks that are not important and not urgent. I try to push a lot of task into this category as I grow up. Not a lot of things are as important now as it seems in the past. An example of this is playing games. It serves at best as a time waster event, though we all need such activities to relax and wind down. Just don't make this a priority when there are Q1, Q2 and Q3 things left undone.

The ideal workflow goes like this:

  1. Classify all activities into the four quadrants 
  2. Settle all the Q1 (urgent and important) activities first
  3.  Then try to push those activities from Q3 (urgent but not important) into Q4 (not urgent and not important), as much as possible.
  4. Settle the remaining Q3 activities
  5. Schedule the Q2 stuff daily or weekly into your timetable. They are not urgent but they are still important. So do them on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis. The key point is to plan it into your timetable, otherwise they will not be missed until it's too late.
  6. Do the Q4 activities the last. Or when you need a break from your suddenly productive life.

I'll proceed to give an example of how to use this in a typical student's life.

  • Do all assignments that is due this week first
  • Pass down some 'arrows' that are shot by your group leaders in your co-curricular activities to others. Those that can't be passed down, just settle it as soon as you can
  • Exams are in 2 months time. Have a plan of how your revision schedule will be like. Stick to it every week. Start early, finish leisurely. Start late, finish panicky.
  • Stop watching you-tube videos or korean dramas when you don't even have time to finish the above. Allow yourself only a very limited time to do these per week, and only after you've had a good productive week.

You can be surprised how many people cannot find the time to study for exams until it's too late. Too swamped by everyday living that they miss the big picture. Are you doing that in your financial life too? Too concerned with day to day living and miss planning for longer term goals?


Sillyinvestor said...

Hi LP,

nice post, in my previous workplace, Quad 3 has many things that everyday I go to work, I have 2-3 unfinished tasks from yesterday, with another 6-7 due on the day and another 2-4 flowing in on the day itself...

On these perhaps, only 1-3 can be shifted to Quad 2 and the rest should really be in Quad 4

I should show this to my ex-boss...LOL

I start the morning everyday, taking a deep breath and coming up with the to do list, and color code them in terms of urgency...

Thereafter, I ask myself which is important to my core business? The rest I do it very quickly... Some people think I lazy, but I rather free up more resources to do other things.

The problem is:

What you consider important, will very unlikely be actually the same as the boss.

Everything the boss tasked you is considered important to him. I have a "stink Reputation" of rushing through "projects I don't like", so much so that my bosses know if they want that particular thing done in a "ra ra" manner, they will not approach me... LOL

Singapore Man of Leisure said...

The grasshopper scratches his head?

Isn't the whole point of retirement planning or financial freedom is so we can spend more time "playing"?


I think I better go "plan" a day trip to JB. Have not been there for ages!

That would be a great time waster. Just walk around, shop, and eat ;)

la papillion said...

Hi sillyinvestor,

You're right. What is deemed important to bosses might be downright opposite to the subordinates. I'm just lucky that I don't have nonsense things handed up to me, hence what I'm worried about are the non urgent but important things that I neglect for now but potentially suffer in the future :)

Sometimes being a skunk is not too bad. Other animals will avoid you and you will be safer :)

la papillion said...


Haha, but the grasshopper have different priorities from an ant, isn't it? :)

If you're so good at your weekend job and someone offered you a full time job running the floor, will you take it? Your priorities have changed because you're in a different life stage. Productivity is now measured in terms of the different experiences you take, not the amount of work you can produce in a day :)

Still, what you said is a good wake up call. As we grow, what is deemed important might suddenly be a great time waster and vice versa ;)

Singapore Man of Leisure said...

The butterfly makes the grasshopper smile :)

The butterfly is no ant. Never has, never will be.

Once upon a time, the butterfly was a caterpillar.

No one, not even the butterfly himself, recognises who he really is.

It was after the caterpillar lets go of his former self, only then the transformation begins ;)

P.S. It's so bloody hard to find an opportunity to poke you! You no fun one :(

I think I'll go back to poking the oat meal guy and fisherman - they're good sports like you too ;)

la papillion said...


Nice imagery ;)

Haha, I don't have to sting like a bee, but I can definitely float like a butterfly lol! It's not easy to catch a butterfly!