Urgent vs Important (#42)

One of the most important productivity concepts that goal-oriented individuals understand is the difference between those things that are urgent and those things that are important. They know that they are often mutually exclusive.

A powerful priority-setting tool made famous by author Steven Covey is called Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle.  As its name suggests, this is a tool used by President Dwight Eisenhower to identify tasks and activities that demanded his attention and those that he should either ignore or designate as a lesser priority.

According to this principle, our tasks will typically fall into one of four quadrants; we also tend to complete them in this order:

  1. Urgent & Important
  2. Urgent & Not Important
  3. Important & Not Urgent
  4. Not Urgent & Not Important

A common productivity mistake is not focusing energy on “Important and Not Urgent” before “Urgent and Not Important”. The problem with this approach is that, if you keep ignoring the important things you want to accomplish long-term, you set yourself up to be reactive when those things eventually become both urgent and important; this is “firefighting” mode.

Prioritizing things that are “Urgent and Not Important” also distracts you from taking action towards what is most important. In essence, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. While it can feel good to cross seemingly urgent items off your list, they don’t really move the needle in your personal or professional life.

A year ago, I began organizing my to-do list into the following buckets and recommended order:

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I have also talked to many others who have done the same and have experienced great results. When I follow this to-do list process, I find that I am able to meet my goals with fewer things sneaking up on me.

The notion I want to leave you with is, if we live our lives in a reactionary way, we will never accomplish the bigger goals we set for ourselves. Whether you choose to use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important tool or some other productivity tool, the key is to avoid the urgent distractions and stay focused on what you want to achieve in the long-term. If you do, you’ll find yourself accomplishing so much more you thought possible.

Quote of the Week

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

President Dwight Eisenhower

Have a great weekend!

Image Source: JP Kantor Consulting

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