Why The Urgent-Important Matrix and Purpose-Goal-Action Hierarchies Don’t Matter Much

too busy to figure out purposeSome people have remarked that 2Time Labs focuses almost exclusively on what we call Time Mechanics – how you manage the flow of time demands through your life. Or in other words, what happens to them from the moment they are born in your mind to the point where they disappear from your life because they have been completed.

It’s a bit of a criticism, to be honest. The argument is that we should also focus on Time Choices – helping people to decide what they should be working on at any moment in time in keeping with a hierarchy of goals. They point to the Urgent-Important Matrix popularized (but not invented) by Stephen Covey, and other systems of thought that link high-level life-purpose at one extreme, to the choice they make about what to do today at another.

The line of thinking is that it’s best when there is a connection between these two extremes, running all the way through different levels of commitment.

I haven’t joined that debate, and yes, the work at 2Time Labs focuses squarely on Time Mechanics while spending little time on Time Choices. Why?

It’s because most people don’t have time to think about life purpose for more than a fleeting moment. In other words, their time mechanics don’t give them any room to consider these questions. Even someone who decides to come up with a plan for their lives won’t succeed if they are unable to spend any time during their busy day to execute it, no matter how well it’s conceived and worded.

On the other hand, people who manage their time well seem to be able to make excellent Time Choices at all levels, and fully integrate highest and lowest level activities. My hypothesis is that they are able to do this well without any formal training because they have the time and space to ask questions about where their life is going, and then turn the answers into action items. They have a peace of mind that allow for deeper questions, and better linkage between their goals at all levels.

As for the Urgent-Important Matrix – it’s a nice system of classification. But after your time demands have been tagged with the right quadrant from the matrix… now what? You still have to make an individual decision about when to do the action and the tag might be useful for a fleeting instant, but what happens when a few days have passed and a time demand moves from one quadrant to the other? Should you go through and re-tag every item with an updated category? Probably not, which means that the action of adding the tag in the first place is probably superflouous.

The answer is not to come up with a new process or system for linking these goals, tagging the or even defining them. The systems that I have seen make good common-sense, but don’t really say anything new that you couldn’t figure out on your own. Tagging time demands with any kind of priority or category doesn’t seem to be an essential step, even though some would argue that it helps them.