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A Simple Little Drawing that Melts Overwhelm


We’re headed toward the end of the year, and I’ve seen lots of stuff floating around the interwebs about doing a year in review and how to plan your next year optimally (including the podcast episode that Mike and I recorded on our practices around this).

If we want to move things forward in our business and life, we must remember:

Progress loves focus.twitter-logo progress-loves-focus-meme

I like to think of it like the difference between the light mist function and the concentrated spray function on your adjustable water hose head. If you want to get a lot of things a little wet, use the light mist. If you want to make headway and, let’s say, fill a bucket of water or move a pile of dirt off your driveway, you gotta use the focused power spray function. More power. Less surface area.

Want to ensure you never get traction? Work on 10 projects at once.

Want to majorly move the needle? Only work on one thing at a time and give it your all.

As the potential resolutions, projects, goals, and opportunities begin to bubble up to find a spot on the blank canvas of the new year, I want to share a little graphic with you that helps me A LOT when it comes to picking and choosing what to focus on.

It’s inspired by the Eisenhower Decision Matrix that I first learned about it via Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Eisenhower and Covey identify each task according to its importance and urgency.

For our purposes, let’s identify tasks according to how essential they are and how emergent they are (meaning how much of an emergency).

You can separate your potential tasks and projects into four categories based on the matrix below.

Enter your name and email below to download a printable decision matrix so you can fill in your own projects and figure out what to focus on.

Most people spend way too much time on emergent, non-essential tasks.

Your co-worker pings you for a last-minute piece of information they need to finish their brief. It’s important to them, but not to you. But it’s a burning fire, so you put it out. It’s not your fire, though. It’s theirs. You abandon what you were working on to find it for them. It takes you 25 minutes to get refocused on what you were working on, and on average you’ll get interrupted every 11 minutes of your day.

Result? You’re never focused on anything and you feel like you never get anything done. Because, well….you don’t.

Then we spend a fair amount of time on the emergent, essential tasks like finishing a sales page the night before your launch or writing the birthday card in the restaurant bathroom on your way in to the party. This stuff keeps us afloat and we gotta do it, but it’s often rushed and adrenaline-filled.

The stuff that moves us toward our dreams is the essential, non-emergent stuff. It’s the stuff that no one is breathing down your neck to deliver and the stuff that’s not attached to a looming deadline…like working on your novel, brainstorming your next big creative project, or sitting by yourself listening to the stirrings of what your soul most wants to create next.

The more time we focus on the essential, non-emergent tasks, the less essential, emergent tasks come across our plate. When we go upstream and attend to the essential tasks before we have to, we have way fewer emergencies.

Want to feel more spaciousness around your work? Carving even an hour out of your week to focus on essential, non-emergent projects will give you more space. (When I say focus I mean put your phone on airplane mode, close your door, log off Facebook, and use the Freedom app to prevent yourself from mindlessly searching the internet when your mind feels challenged by what you’re working on.)

The more space you create for the essential, non-emergent, the more space you’ll have. It’s really the gift that keeps on giving. Plus, you’ll make way more progress on your projects because you’re not constantly hopping around putting out fires (yours and other people’s).

Your business and life do not need to be emergency driven. They can be dream driven.twitter-logo dream-driven-meme

You can make incredible progress in a calm, essential, non-emergent state.

May you bring your attention to the essential.

May your focus decrease the number of emergencies.

And may you have a calm, spacious new year.

Download your printable decision matrix here.




What can you carve out space for that is essential and non emergent? Let me know in the comments below.


  • Thanks, Kate. I need to remember to give myself permission to do those tasks that are essential to my dreams. It’s so easy to lose sight of the dreams in those tasks we tell ourselves we must do right now. Or, the ones we’ve put off until they are emergencies.

  • susan thornton

    Thanks Kate for this reminder and the tool. As the CEO of a small nonprofit organization that always has way more to do than time, capacity or funding, I find myself drowning in the crisis emergency tasks and issues, rather than on creating the momentum that will take the organization to the next level of service for our community. The nonprofit world is a challenge, but armed with this new focus, I plan to have a more balanced and productive 2017! Wishing you, Mike and Penelope and the entire Northrup gang a happy, healthy holiday season.

  • Linda

    Great reminder for 2017. It’s so easy to forget the basics and get obsessed with complicated time management systems when it can be so easy. Thanks, Kate.

  • Anna

    I looovveeee thiiiissssssssssssssssss! <3

  • Caroline

    Hi Kate,
    I can on this page from the “how to prioritize” post, and I’m so glad I clicked on this link! The essential/emergent matrix somehow speaks more to me than the importance/urgency one that I had learned and practised over the last few years! Best wishes xxx Caroline

  • This is my dream…………I need to re-read this post like once a week! Hah!

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