Urgent vs important tasks: What to do first?

How often do you say: “I’m sorry, I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy”? Sure you’re busy, no doubt about that. But what are you busy with? You might answer: “I’m on something very urgent”.

 

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OK, what can be so urgent that you don’t have time to do anything else? Are you reanimating someone who’s having a heart attack? Or are you trying to get away from someone who wants to attack you with a knife? In that case, yes, this is very urgent and important at the same time.

But I guess this is not the situation you are in right now. So then, another question pops up:

Where does this urge come from?

Why do we think things need to be done so urgently?

 

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  • Do you have the feeling you need to stay busy just for the sake of being busy? Often, being busy is a way of avoiding negative feelings. In this case, staying busy is only extending the period of having these negative feeling until you take some time to cope with them or do something about them.
  • Have you been procrastinating important tasks? Oh oh, the monster of procrastination. You put off tasks that you don’t like but you know you need to do them. You promise yourself that tomorrow you will start. Then, at one moment in time, you really will need to start. You will need to perform the whole task and you will need to finish it, otherwise you will get in trouble.
  • Have you been wasting your time on unnecessary and unimportant things? I guess we all do that from time to time. And then, we realise there is something we should do urgently…
  • Are you not very well organised? Didn’t you plan enough in advance? And now there are a lot of unexpected tasks to be done. And they need to be done as soon as possible!
  • Have you forgotten about this important task? So many things to remember, so many things to do, so many things that can get forgotten, until someone reminds us. Now we are in emergency mode!
  • Whose agenda are you following? Your own or someone else’s? Well, OK, at your job you need to follow your boss’s agenda, but which agenda are you following in your personal life? Your mother’s, your friend’s? And who gets priority? The one who shouts the loudest? The one who makes us feel the most guilty?

Some questions to reflect on… Another question to ask is: How important is the task you are currently doing? We tend to make things more important than they are. Everything we do is important, isn’t it? Nope, it isn’t.

How to know if a task is important?

There are some questions you can ask to know if what you’re doing is important:

 

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  • Does it help you to stay healthy? Your health should be considered as your highest priority.
  • Is what you are doing giving you more safety and security, both physically and financially?
  • Is what you are doing contributing to a better relationship with the people you love? Your partner, your family and relatives, friends…
  • Is the task you are performing bringing you closer to your personal (project) objectives?
  • Is what you are doing fun? Does it relieve stress or make you relax and happy?

But also in tasks considered as important, there is an order of priority. The order of the list above is not a coincidence.

The Urgent versus Important matrix and how to use it

I’m sure you have heard about the Urgent – Important matrix. For people who haven’t heard about it, below is an image of this matrix:

 

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It’s a simple matrix with only two dimensions: Important and Urgent. That makes four cells: Important and Urgent, Important but Not urgent, Not important but Urgent and Not important and Not urgent.

Most people know this matrix, but do you also know how to use it?

  • Important and Urgent:
    It’s obvious, you need to do tasks in this cell immediately or as soon as possible. First look at the order of priority in importance (see above), then look if it is really that urgent. The purpose is to have this cell empty. Always! These are the things that are getting you stressed out. Get rid of them as soon as possible, so you have time to do the important tasks in a more relaxed way.
  • Important but Not urgent:
    Once all important and urgent tasks have been done, this is where to spend your time and energy. What is important needs to be done. If you choose your priorities wisely, you have the time to work on these tasks without any stress. You have the time to do the things right from the first time instead of skipping steps because you’re in a hurry and having to return to them later. This way you avoid tasks getting in the ‘Important and Urgent’ cell. You will get things done and progress slowly but surely towards your objectives.
  • Not important but urgent:
    The purpose is not to spend any time and energy here. If it’s not important, why would you give it any of your attention or time? What could be so urgent that you need to do it even if it’s not important? Following a series on TV that you want to watch now? Trying to get to the next level of a computer game? Not a big deal if you miss it! But if you need to relax, are tired and you don’t have any energy left to attack an important task… well, go ahead.
  • Not important and not urgent: Things in this cell are a complete waste of your time and energy. Don’t spend any time on these, except if it is just for fun, if you’re on holiday, if you want to relax etc. Just be aware that you’re wasting your time.

It is not difficult to use the Urgent – Important matrix. The most difficult is to know what is really important and what is really urgent. And within ‘Important’ and ‘Urgent’ there are different levels to take into account.

Another point is that this matrix is used on the level of individual tasks and your daily planning and schedule. Next time, when someone asks you if you are busy, you know that you’re not just busy with a random task, but hopefully with something important.

Your thoughts?

 

 

Urgent vs important tasks: What to do first?

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