The most URGENT or the most IMPORTANT?

What matters most – the most urgent or the most important?

If you are like me, you face the challenge each day of choosing to handle what is urgent and what is important. I’ve been struggling with this balance lately and wanted to re-ground myself in those things I know are important, helpful and useful in focusing on those activities that make a true difference.

Every expert I’ve asked agrees – if you let urgent matters consume your time, you’ll never get to those important projects, activities or tasks. In many cases, those important projects, activities, and tasks are the ones that generate the most revenue, creates the most satisfied clients or help you be more productive in delivering an exceptional consumer experience. The word project here does not necessarily mean a specific project it could be a task or activity. For example cultivating relationships with clients, vendors or co-workers, acknowledging a job well done, taking time to improve a skill or focus on your health by exercising, are all important but not urgent activities.

Stephen Covey recorded an exercise with rocks of different sizes (small, medium and large rocks) and a glass pitcher. Students see all the rocks in the container and the instructor empties the container and then has a student try and get all the rocks back in the pitcher. Most if not all, the students failed to get all the rocks back in – they typically start by placing all the small rocks in the pitcher and then trying to stuff the remaining large rocks into the pitcher. The instructor steps in, place the big rocks in the pitcher first, and then all the little rocks fall into place and they all fit!

Start with the BIG rocks first.

Few of us have the luxury of focusing on just the urgent or just the important; to be successful you must be able to manage the important and the urgent. How can you handle both?

Keep the big picture priorities in front of you at all times. Do you have a “top 5” list? What are the outcomes you what to achieve? By keeping the big picture close to you it makes it easier to get back on track after an “urgent” distraction is handled.

Turn your email off and only focus on email during specific times during the day.

Schedule your important items as actual appointments – schedule specific times to focus on your most important projects when urgent matters don’t normally occur. The phrase, “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time” comes to mind.

Urgent matters get in the way, so plan for it! There are certain things in our business that we can plan on happening. These urgent matters draw you away from your important priorities. Schedule these interruptions as part of your daily routine.

Before you tackle an urgent matter, ask yourself how important is it to do “right now.” Can it wait? Can someone else handle this? Is it an excuse to get off task and avoid the harder work of the important project list?

What you measure you can manage. Here is a proposed action plan to help you see your own pattern. This week, keep a journal and take note of the following:

  1. What task or project you are working on?
  2. How much time are you devoting to this task?
  3. Why are you doing this task?

What you measure you can manage and improve.

At the end of each day write a “U” for urgent or “I” for important next to each entry. How do these activities relate to your big picture and overall priorities?

After the week is over, read through your journal and cover these 7 areas:

  1. How many U’s and I’s did you have?
  2. Are you closer to achieving your big picture or farther away?
  3. How many U’s could have been bypassed or delegated to others?
  4. How does the U’s interfere with your I’s?
  5. If your number of I’s is low, what got in the way?
  6. How can you better manage or cut out some of these U’s?
  7. Are you avoiding your I’s?

If urgent items keep getting in the way, stop the madness. Talk to a trusted advisor, business coach or counselor and get clear on some strategies and tactics that will work for you in staying focused on the important while handling the urgent.