So you put off the important project and take care of the urgent tasks.
First, don’t beat yourself up over it. Sometimes, you need to do that. Quadrant 1 comes before Quadrant 2. You’ve got to put out the fires as they come up.
If a Quadrant 1 activity has a deadline before a Quadrant 2 activity, you work in Quadrant 1. If you don’t have time for both, the Quadrant 2 activity isn’t going to happen, at least not yet. It gets pushed back. If you’re not careful, it will get pushed back again. And again.
Comparing two activities as Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 only works when the importance of the two activities is the same, or at least close. If not, what may be a Quadrant 1 activity in its own right is actually a Quadrant 3 activity when compared to the Quadrant 2 activity. (Yes, a Quadrant 2 activity can look like a Quadrant 4 activity in comparison, which is why it’s so easy to put off when you’re up against a Q1 deadline.)
This is especially important to consider when you find the same two activities repeatedly competing against each other. Task A is in Quadrant 1 because it has a hard deadline next week. Task B is in Quadrant 2 because the deadline for its project—Project B—is months away. That feels like lifetimes compared to the urgency of Task A.
In other words, the penalty of not working on Project B is still a ways off. The reward for working on Project A is immediate. Guess which one we choose to work on?
Even when we give ourselves a deadline for Task B, just to keep Project B moving along, we know, deep down, that it’s a squishy deadline. Task B isn’t really due because Project B isn’t due. It’s okay to knock out Task A. We can work a little harder next week and make up for lost time on Project B.
Next week, you make the same choice. Task A needs done. Task B can wait. The schedule for Project B starts to slip as we kick the can further and further down the road.
At some point, you need to ask yourself what you really want to achieve. Is doing Project A worth not doing Project B? That’s the choice you’ve been making.
Are you willing to make a different choice? Are you willing to give up Project A—at least temporarily—so you can do Project B? Is Project B truly more important than Project A? Or is Project B just a distraction that’s filling you with guilt? You have to decide and then act accordingly.
We like to think “it’s not or, it’s and!” but we’re finite. We do have our limits.
If you aren’t willing to sacrifice for what you want most, what you want most becomes the sacrifice. Project A and Project B are both worthwhile projects. That’s why you want to do them. That’s why it’s hard to choose between them.
You know the results you’re getting now. If you want different results, are you willing to make a different choice?