Urgent or Important? Learn to Prioritize

"It's urgent!". "I want it now!". "Hurry, it's late!". "I want it yesterday!". Does it sound familiar?

These days, it seems, everything is urgent. Ding! You got email. You shouldn't, but you start reading it. You are in the second sentence, when the phone rings. Guess who is calling? Yes, the person, who just sent you the email. "Did you respond to my email yet?" - he asks. Crazy, but not far-fetched, is it?

First, let me make a bold statement: urgent, most of the time, does NOT equal important. By the way, urgent is not to be confused with an emergency. The latter is a different story altogether.

More often than not, something becomes urgent, because somebody (or you) neglected to do something in time, or didn't plan for making it happen.

Urgent tasks are deadline-related and often driven by others.

Important tasks are related to your goals and you want to do them.

So, how do you deal with all the "urgent" stuff, without losing your sanity?

Consider the following steps and best practices:

1. Write down your top (3 or 4) business and personal objectives.

2. Use the above as a gauge against which to evaluate all tasks (to-dos) and/or requests coming your way.

3. Anything, which supports your (business or personal) goals, is important.

4. Once you know what's important, it's time to prioritize.

a. Urgent and Important = Priority 1

b. Urgent but NOT important = Priority 2

c. Not urgent but Important = Priority 3

d. Not urgent and not important = Priority 4

5. Everything being equal, you may give higher priority to a task if its completion (or performance) impacts your personal or your business' reputation. I.e.: you made a specific commitment to deliver or perform.

6. Once you identified your priorities for a given day, you must write them in your calendar, reflecting the actual time required for their completion.

7. If it's not in your calendar (with all the intention to do it), there is a 75% chance it won't be done.

8. Of course, there are interruptions. But, they occur to the extent you allow them to occur. If you must allow them, then you must also leave extra time in your calendar for interruptions.

9. Real life situations don't necessarily fall into nice, "black & white" categories. Urgent tasks do pop up or come your way. However, if you prioritize systematically, plan your tasks pro-actively and with reality, you should be able to accommodate urgent tasks and interruptions.

10. Learn to say no.


Alex Revai, President of Productivity Solutions, is a professional organizer, who helps business people improve profit, productivity and peace-of-mind. An engineer by training and a seasoned business manager with over 30 years of high-tech industry experience, Alex considers himself primarily as a problem-solver. His passion is to teach individuals and organizations about best practices, systems and processes in order to restore sanity (and productivity) to our increasingly crazy, artificial...

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