Urgent vs Important
One of the best management tools that I have is the Urgent / Important grid, by Steven Covey.
For the first few years in my career, I used this framework to make my to-do list everyday. At that point, I was working 80% or more in box one. My job title may as well have been corporate fire fighter.
Today, I use the framework to help my team focus their energy and to prevent them from becoming firefighters themselves.
I set goals with them around the amount of time spent in each quadrant and help them deal with requests that fall in groups 3 & 4.
Here's how it goes:
Quadrant One - Do it! Then ask, why did it get into Q1 in the first place? What can we do to prevent it from becoming urgent next time?
Quadrant Two - Spend as much time here as possible. This is high value, strategic work.
Quadrant Three - These are interruptions, limit them as much as possible! If there is an interdepartmental challenge (important to another group but not to you), prioritize as is appropriate or escalate.
Quadrant Four - Don't waste your time here.
I focus on spending more and more time in Quadrant two. For myself, today, I aim for 80% or more there.