Urgent versus important

Rohan Brown

Human nature tends to have us working on ‘urgent’ matters, since they are at front of mind and require attention now. However in planning and undertaking tasks it is vital to consider the ‘important’ tasks regardless of urgency.

This was explored in a book written by Stephen Covey ‘First things first’ and further in ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’. The main theme was that work should focus on tasks aimed at long time goals rather than simply urgent tasks. To illustrate this the message Covey used a chart referred to as ‘The Eisenhower Method’.

Working on the urgent tasks gives a feeling we are clearing our tasks and getting somewhere and this is where many people spend much of their day. Recently in another GTP blog on ‘Who moved my cheese‘, evidence was seen of the need to be attend to the Important but Not Urgent quadrant, whereby the cheese was still available and had not run out, but there was a need to replace that cheese in future and the ground work had to be done before the issue became urgent. These tasks are what leads to future and sustained success. In a business sense this often requires taking the time to sit down and work on the business and improve for the future. Being pro-active, not reactive or missing being active at all.

The threat to doing the non-important and urgent matters is that the tasks that really need to be worked on are not completed. Therefore the important tasks are not completed and you may be letting down your stake holders. Sometimes the non-important and urgent tasks are the break we need to get ready for the next important task, so in that way they may be somewhat productive, however be aware of not getting bogged down doing non-important matters.

The test for all workers is to look at what they do in their day and start prioritising. Start limiting or all together removing quadrant 4 tasks from your day. The next task is to get a balance of the three quadrants to ensure balance is achieved, all goals whether current or future are achieved and that all stake holders needs are fulfilled.

To get more information on this read the books mentioned above by Stephen Covey or obtain the audio book of ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’ which is available from iTunes and other audio book sites.