We have heard over and over about knowing how to differentiate between the urgent and the important. First, let’s understand the definition of urgent vs important.
What is the definition of urgent?
The urgent is that which has a deadline, and you need to have it done to keep your job or to keep that client. Urgent makes us feel very good about ourselves. We feel important, needed, and very useful. We concentrate on the urgent, we give it our all.
Examples of urgent:
- Answering emails
- Working on a job that has a deadline
- Attending meetings, even when they have no agenda
- That which will make us look good to our superiors
It keeps us busy all day and at the end of the day we feel very good for getting it done, all the time, while important lies somewhere untouched.
What is the definition of important?
Important does not have a deadline, but it contributes to the bigger picture. Working on the important can feel futile, as it may take a while before our work is rewarded.
Examples of important
- That personal project you’ve been meaning to start
- That master’s thesis you’ve been intending to get ready for defense
- That work project that was allocated to you, aside from your job description
- That book you’ve been saying forever you’ll start writing
- Updating that CV so you can start applying for a new job
- That proposal for a new client for your side hustle
- That course you’ve been meaning to enroll for because it will boost your career
Unlike urgent, important is full of uncertainties, and fear, and it is gut-wrenching. That’s why when urgent comes up, you grab onto it because it feels safer. Important does not have deadlines, that’s why you push it further down the pile to ‘wait for the right time’.
How to get the important done
Stop the glorification of busy
Just because you are busy does not mean you are productive. Urgent will keep you on the treadmill all the time but will never get you anywhere. Yet it is that you are busy that you have neglected all the important things in your life.
Take a moment and ask yourself, am I just busy and not productive? Sometimes you are in meetings all day, and none of these meetings add any value to your work.
Plan for it and get it done
Stop waiting for inspiration to get the important things done. If you wait for inspiration it will come at the wrong time, when urgent is there flashing red lights and it must be attended to.
Other times the inspiration might not come for a long time. Like is said, important is full of fear, and as humans, we avoid that which makes us afraid.
Therefore, make a plan, schedule, put reminders and alarms if you have to, and get some time in a day to get the important done.
Say first thing in the morning, before you even open your emails to view what’s urgent, get the important done first. My guide for how to create time in your busy day might help, as you plan for this.
Some ‘urgents’ are not as urgent as they seem
Some tasks look very urgent but in an actual sense, they are not.
Sometimes when you say ‘I have to respond to this email first’ ask yourself, do you? What will happen if you don’t answer it now? What will happen if you put off your colleague pushing some ‘urgent’ work on your desk? Before you get to it, ask yourself how urgent it is.
The important is your future, that’s why you need to work on it now, for the sake of your future.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains the difference between the urgent and the important. You may check out the summary of this element and other pointers from the book on Blinkist.