“The ability to focus attention on important things is a defining characteristic of intelligence.”
– Robert J. Shiller


We all know deep down that there are specific things – activities, places, people – that are important to us, that drive us, and spending time on those things is critical to our happiness.

What we don’t always realize is that some things are not important.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, developed a 4-quadrant construct to help us prioritize the tasks in front of us. While most of us likely came across this at some point in our careers, it may be beneficial to have a quick refresher:

  • Important and Urgent – Must deal with it immediately
  • Important but Not Urgent – Doesn’t require immediate attention, but should be planned for (NOTE: This is the area he advocates focusing on for long term goals)
  • Urgent but Not Important – Interruptions, Distractions, often caused by other’s poor planning
  • Not Urgent and Not Important – Time wasters, Busy work (work with no real benefit)

In my day-to-day life, technology has dramatically increased the effect of quadrants 3 and 4. (NOTE: Since quadrant 1 is often unavoidable, technology has actually improved the ability to address those issues quickly and efficiently.) Emails, texts, and social media notifications all come in constantly, requiring immediate attention. With easy-to-use, efficient communication platforms, the pressure for blogs, tweets, posts, etc. to represent “the best ME” (or my best work) is relentless.

So, what if I didn’t do what was expected of me (e.g. the “not important” stuff), and instead focused on what is essential in my life, what really matters to me? To do that, I need to not only identify my purpose, but also to cut out from my life those things that don’t deserve my attention.

  • Identify your purpose – Certain things bring more meaning to your life and align with your core values. Ask yourself: What excites me and gets me out of bed each day?
  • Identify what you can let slide – Every task or project has consequences, but what matters is how much those consequences mean to us, regardless of how important it is to others, how impressive it may be or how important it may have been in the past. Does it matter to you? If not, it may be time to let it go.
  • Identify your distractions and temptations – It can be amazingly powerful to explore and understand your purpose, but it is even more important to consciously know what is stealing your time. Evaluate your habits. We can’t always afford the time to watch that new Netflix series, travel down the “rabbit hole” of online articles, or take on every project request that comes our way.

Are you spending your time on the things that matter to you?