Learn The Difference Between Urgent And Important

We've talked about prioritising your tasks by urgency and importance, but too often something unimportant takes our attention away from what we should be doing, just because it's urgent. Weblog The Simple Dollar says take urgency out of the equation altogether.

This isn't to say, obviously, that far-off tasks should be done before soon-to-be-due tasks, but that so often what we forget what's important because we're distracted by urgency:

When we're coming up with a debt repayment plan for our $US300,000 in debt, we're panicking and making angry phone calls about a $US5 late fee.

When we're trying to focus on a major project at work, we switch screens excitedly each time that email "ding" happens.

One of the best ways, they note, to avoid this issue is to deal with the less important, urgent things during your breaks. Instead of fretting about them as they happen, push out the distractions and focus on them when you have a moment. This idea isn't anything new, but Simple Dollar reader Stephan F puts it into a way we hadn't thought of before:

Almost all of those Urgent items are things that are interruptions that we react to and not things we have chosen to act on. I think that is the biggest difference. Too often we spend time reacting instead of acting. And I think that is where we most mess up our lives.

Isn't most office work about reacting to the urgent and not acting on the important. How many times have we hid out in an empty conference room or coming in early/staying late to get real work done. Isn't it much the same?

Most often, the sense of importance comes from us feeling the need to react right away. When something unexpected crops up, the best way to deal with it is to set it aside and keep doing what you're doing until you have a break. The more you can distinguish between what's important and what's merely urgent, the less stressed you'll be about it. Photo by Wesley Fryer.

Separating the Urgent and the Important [The Simple Dollar]


Comments

    Not sure I agree. If something is truly urgent, like, your boss wants this thing done today, then your main project has to be put on hold.

    And if by "break" you mean lunch break, not a break in the overall project, screw that. Lunch breaks are for lunch and not focussing on work. Otherwise you burn out, if you have to keep working every single minute of the day.

      I agree with everything you said Ogre. I think the point is that we've been trained to do urgent items first and ignore important ones - instead, we should allocate time to both equally.

    If it's a boss item, and your boss is impatient, then it can be tagged 'important' - to your boss, if not to you personally.

    For long-term planning, things should be scheduled in order of importance. Then, if there's time left over, backfill from the not-important-but-urgent pile.

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