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I've been through all this stuff via various courses over the years.

I guess you will just have to experience the value of it for yourself before coming to a decision about how to make a decision!

Susan in TX

Seem's like Stephen Covey used the same matrix in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People several years ago. I didn't remember it being attributed to Eisenhower, though. To me, that makes it a little more interesting. My question with the fourth box is how it can be urgent if it's not important? (I wouldn't have anything in that box either.)

Dark Puss

Don't get addicted to making lists!


I think list making is a genetically fixed trait. Some folk wake up in the morning and lists of things to do just arrive in their head. Others just bumble through the day going from one thing to the next as it occurs to them.

Yes you've guessed I am in the 2nd group. I wouldn't mind a list but there isn't a place for one!

Dark Puss

I think what I was getting at is that actually making (and ticking off) lists can almost become a goal in its own right! I used to make quite detailed lists (after I read books like the Cornflower is discussing) but soon found that I liked making the lists much more than getting on with the work; it had become a displacement activity. Now I do know some people (rather few actually) who seems to be able to make rapidly an extensive list and then just move forward. I tend to keep my lists in my head these days, although I do keep a detailed on-line diary which clearly substitutes at some level.


I wondered about the 'urgent but not important' things, too, and Mr. C. suggested it may be something like an imminent but unimportant deadline, e.g. the post box is due to be emptied in five minutes' time so you rush to post your letter, but you could just as well wait until the next collection later in the day.


You also - and this is a serious point - need to discard somethings as not worth doing at all. And remember, that deciding which things to do first is not a decision which results in any of your tasks being completed - that job still awaits. So you need to avoid the preparation of tasks becoming a dynamic process (as non-urgent become urgent etc)which actually stops you doing things at all. You also, I think, need to be free of the tyranny of priority - sometimes you just feel happier getting some little unimportant task done, and that makes the rest of the pile easier. Or you might feel that if only you could crack this difficult task, you would feel relieved and empowered, so you should do it, whatever order it comes in.

I confess to being a bit sceptical about your book's style of approach, because I worry that these systems are only displacing the problem from the primary decision to the entirely trivial one of which box to put the task in, or which direction to assign to it (whatever that means). Anyway, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink will convince you that most decisions are taken in the first two seconds (and they're good decisions, too!)- you just haven't found out what you think (!), or you're post-hoc-ing it into another framework (ie, rational explanations to convince the family, the board, parliament etc), or - crucially - you've realised that this decision is one where the two second snap isn't right. Someone as intelligent and self aware as you shouldn't play with these boxes, you should read Blink and my next paragraph!

A really good question to ask yourself is what will be the consequence of not doing something. That's often, I find, a much better guide than the converse. And, speaking as someone who has made a fair few decisions over the years, its amazing how much less dreadful not doing something is than you normally expect. That's a reason for actively deciding not to do something - or postponing it for the sake of an even more critical action - not a reason for not deciding.

If this makes any sense, I'd be surprised, because I couldn't decide whether to comment or not, because everyone makes their own decisons their own way and it could be presumptuous to interfere. Is there any comfort to be gained from the thought that in a parallel universe, Cornflower is making exctly the reverse decision? No, I thought not!


Urgent but not important is one of the classic categories, and applies to many many decisions or tasks - eg, an editor meeting a deadline for a newspaper - or a politician needing his speech typed for the BBC interview - but the actual event is completely trivial. I bet you have dozens of things in this box all the time, you just think they're important when they're not!Urgency can be imposed by deadlines, or rank, or both.

Dark Puss

Wise words Lindsay; very good advice indeed.



Erm, ok, boss....
Seriously - thankyou, Lindsay.

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