Urgent vs Important Tasks

Do you ever feel like one day melds seamlessly into another and weeks blend together so quickly that before you know it, weeks have passed almost without notice?  When we’re busy, or overwhelmed, or simply engrossed in what we’re doing, time can fly by before we know it.

Sometimes that’s just fine — our lives moving quickly but with interest.  And sometimes it means that we may not be fully engaging in all aspects of our lives if one area is taking up too much “bandwidth.”  The problem with the latter is that we’re so busy taking care of the Urgent things in our lives, that we sometimes overlook the Important things.  (Those of you who have read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey will be familiar with this distinction.)

The Important things are the ones that really move us forward and get us ahead.  If we continually get sucked into thinking the Urgent (but Unimportant) items are what we need to spend our time on, then we actually end up spinning our wheels, or even worse, going backward.

What are the 3 most important things you can do at work in the next week?  What are the 3 most important things you can do for your personal life / relationships in the next week?

I challenge you to write them on a sticky note and put it on your computer, above your desk, or on your bathroom mirror.  Anywhere you will see it daily and be reminded of where you want to make sure you are spending your time.  Make a commitment to making sure all 6 of them get done somehow, someway, before the end of the week. No excuses.

If you're feeling especially motivated, try this Steven Covey exercise:

  1. Write down everything on your To Do list, and everything that you spend time on during the day.  And I do mean everything, from interruptions to emails to phone calls to surfing the internet.  From the things you know you need to do to the things you’ve been procrastinating for months.
  2. Now take another piece of paper and fold it into quarters – halfway across the length and halfway across the width.  The top half represents the Important things to do.  The bottom half represents the Unimportant things to do.  The left half represents the Urgent items, while the right half represents the Not Urgent.
  3. Transfer every item on your list into one of the four quadrants on the page.  For example, completing the last 10% of a client project so your company can bill for it might fall into the Important/Urgent box.  But responding to the latest joke emails from your co-workers would be Not Important/Not Urgent.  Preparing for your big presentation next month might be Important but Not Urgent; an interruption to solve a problem that someone else could have handled is Urgent but Not Important.
  4. Look at how you spend your time.  Start shifting more of your time to be spent on the Important tasks, and less on the Unimportant ones.
  5. If you do this regularly, you will dramatically shift how you spend your time and your productivity!