How to know what is important and what is urgent - with 2 key questions

productivity Oct 03, 2016

Rather want to watch a video than reading on: click here!

When was the last time you came into the office and while checking your e-mails in the morning – grave mistake by the way – all those demands from loads of people were streaming towards you.

Skype, messenger, whatsapp….slack….you name it- all channels where the “urgent” stuff comes in.

Your mailbox is a great place for others to get their stuff done

I know exactly how that feels. In actual fact my grown up daughter is absolutely great in trying to get my attention for supposedly really urgent stuff. Of course I am only a skype call away. Or a click on the send button in the e-mail. “I urgently need this document to be proof read…can you please do that today?” (subtext: because I want to get that done….and I know you are good with this).

All those communication tools are a perfect way for other people to get their agenda organized…

…and we can easily get into a great mess!

Do you even know your objectives?

So the day fills up with all of this urgent stuff and before you know it is over. Your agenda was being hijacked, your plan is…ehmm…screwed… your objectives are far from being achieved….

Hey, I hope you have an agenda or objectives set to be achieved…..if not, start now.

But is all that stuff really urgent? And what of it is important? Ah – did you notice? More often than not we assume that urgent equals important. But it clearly isn’t.

However, some things can be both, urgent and important. But how the h... can you find that out? When something comes around as labelled as being urgent, you need to know there and then if it truly is urgent.

 You’re simply better if you know the difference

Being able to differentiate between those two – urgent and important makes a huge difference.

1.      If you identify what is important you can focus on what really matters. The needle movers. The things that bring progress – that are equally valid for your business as well as your private life.

2.      It will not only bring structure in your work or week, but will bring you better results and faster progress. You’ll be the better leader. Or spouse. Or parent.

3.      You will be able to see distractions for what they are and detect urgencies in disguise.

Urgent is...?

So what is the definition of urgent and important at their core?

Well, urgent is obviously all the stuff which - in case it is not being done now – will have some serious consequences. So there is that deadline for submitting the offer, because otherwise the deal is off the table. Or finishing your tax declaration…particularly if you already exceeded the official deadline.

So in short, if you are in danger of losing a customer or money or seriously damaging a relationship if you don’t write this mail immediately or call this meeting or make this phone call.

....and important is then?

All of these things are also important….so what is then the definition of important?

Important things are those which have a clear impact on the outcome of YOUR or your team’s objective. These are the ones that give meaning to your life or enrich it.

So let’s have a closer look at what those are:

This could be building relationships, improving communication – at home or at work, good planning and organizing, prevention measures to avoid crises or many things from becoming urgent (i.e. this tax declaration), taking good care of yourself including your personal growth and development. Sounds about right?

Just out of curiosity: how much time do you spend with those activities? The thing is that most important things hardly ever jump in your face, urgent things rush towards you at speed.

The two key questions to find out important vs urgent

Did you notice: the main difference between important and urgent AND important is the time factor. So it is wise to find out rather sooner than later, what is important to already take care of in the planning process….to avoid them becoming the firefighting situations, which are draining and stressful for all involved.

Generally you will be able to detect if something is important OR urgent while asking these two questions:

1.      Why now?

If the person demanding whatever activity cannot explain why it has to be done immediately and what the consequences are, then it is clearly not urgent. Ask if you can help at a later stage and get on with your important stuff. If, however, the explanation is that there is this deadline to submit this offer TODAY, as otherwise the biggest deal in the quarter might be at risk, it is clearly urgent. You get my point.

If this happens all the time…well, then you should clearly spend some more time planning the important stuff…this is what I meant with preventive measures...

 2.      Does it contribute to any important objective (mine, the company’s, the team’s)?

I sincerely hope you know your objectives. If not, make sure you set them or find them out asap. Without a goal to walk towards, you will find it impossible to determine if anything coming towards you is in fact important. Then you drift and just react to whatever happens around you.

With clear objectives however, you can check: Does this meeting really help me achieving what I have planned (which by the way can also be improving a relationship to another division…so a meeting can help there). Or how much value does updating this job description the HR department really add to any goal?

 Start checking yourself how much of your work is really urgent and how much time you spend on important things….ask yourself with every task, if it contributes to your most important objectives. And finally you will put your focus on those things you know you want to put first in your life. In all areas – and more and more.

So I dare you to ask the question “Why now?” when the next set of “urgencies” are coming along your way…let me know how it went!




















50% Complete

Hey, thanks for being here...

I promise I won't send you daily mails - I might offer you great stuff from time to time though. Of course I'm biased ;-).

Thanks for your trust!