How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important

The primary purpose of this blog is to douse you guys, my precious and appreciated readers, with maternal love. One way I know to do that is to share valuable things that simply make life easier. Today’s post falls along those lines. It is about time management and how to distinguish between urgent and important things in your daily schedule. If you’ve never heard this before, hold on. It could be life-changing! It has been for me.

I don’t know where I first saw this graph, or if it was presented exactly like this, but here is the concept as it has morphed over the years of use in my life:

Urgent / Important Graph
Urgent / Important Graph

There are 2 main categories on this graph,
“Urgent” and Important.

There are quotes around the word urgent on the left side because urgent things bombard us and feel time sensitive. But just because they feel “urgent” does not necessarily mean they are. So many things can seem urgent – appointments, errands, favors people ask of us, and most of all, answering the chimes and whistles of our technology.

Important items on a to-do list are, well, important. They are priority items. These are not typically the things which pop up suddenly to take your time. These are the things for which you intentionally set time aside.

Here is an example of how one of my recent days started:

Urgent / Important Graph with sample tasks
Urgent / Important Graph with sample tasks

The difference between “Urgent”/Important and “Urgent”/Not Important is whether the sense of urgency is based on real need.

  • For me, getting to work on a workday is both urgent (mandatory, time sensitive) and important. I also had to make sure to buy diapers, or my granddaughter would be going to sleep without that night. Yep – urgent and important!
  • On days when work is urgent/important, I list my Bible reading and exercise time as important/not urgent. I prioritize the important things on my list without concern about them being done at a certain time. Some people really are committed to do these things in the morning, and if that is you, they might be Urgent/Important.
  • Wondering about my WordPress stats and hearing junk mail ‘ding’ into my email inbox can make me antsy and therefore feel like I need to urgently attend to them. But they are not important in the grand scheme of my day. If I can get to them, I will.
  • And then there are those things which will get done eventually. I want to look for my high school yearbook because I recently reconnected with an old friend and the conversation sparked my interest. I also have a winter jacket with ink on it. But it has already gotten so warm where I live that I won’t need it cleaned for months. Not Urgent/Not Important items are things I’d like to get to during the day, but not at the expense of completing the other tasks.

The correct priority order looks like this:

Urgent / Important Graph with sample tasks and priority order
Urgent / Important Graph with sample tasks and priority order

The priority order is set by the Important items, not the “Urgent” ones.

Of course, an agenda is full of moving parts, and stuff comes up – especially “urgent” things – and pieces will need to be added, moved, or removed from the list. The plan I keep at home is primarily in my head unless it gets so complicated in a day that I need to write it down. But I have recently introduced this graph to my team at work, and we keep it on a white board. We fill it out in the morning and use it as a guide all day. The white board is nice, because there are always tweaks to be made as the hours roll on.

The quickest way I’ve seen to get distracted from a plan is to let the “Urgent”/Not Important things crowd in front of the Important/Not Urgent tasks. Remember, those items give a false sense of urgency! When I visualize and/or write it down this way, I can keep it all straight. I really hope this is helpful to you! Please feel free to take it and make it your own. I didn’t make it up and I take no credit for it. But I sure am thankful for what it has helped me to accomplish. Happy productivity!

9 replies on “How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important”

Though I would move Bible Reading to Urgent/Important, the idea of evaluating priorities based on urgency and importance is wise.
A short pamphlet I read in the 70s summed this idea up: The Tyranny of the Urgent.
Far too many equate “urgency” with “important” when as you show in the graphic, these are definitely NOT equivalent. Thanx!! 😉
However, about “cleaning your jacket?” Umm, maybe you should move that one, too? 😂

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Haha! Thanks for your thoughts. My jacket has not been put away yet for the season… I will get to it one of these days.
The Tyranny of the Urgent- that is a great way to put it! Clever title for a pamphlet and accurately descriptive.
I definitely understand your choice to put the Bible reading in the first column. Mine moves over there sometimes. But if my schedule allows, I find I get more out of it when I get some of the other pressing things done first. I feel less distracted. My husband and I do a devotion together first thing in the morning, so I get to start my day with both a “Good morning, Jesus” and a “Talk to You soon”! 🙂

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