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Important vs. Urgent — A Delicate Balance | by Guy Erez | Jul, 2022


Managing your life and your software more effectively

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Photo by Christophe Hautier on Unsplash

The first part of this series was about the importance of being proactive.
Without it, nothing gets done. But if you’re already taking action, you gotta make sure you’re taking the right kind of action.

Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
called this habit “Put First Things First.”

That’s a great habit to have.

The only problem is — how do you figure out what those “First Things” are?That’s exactly what I’m going to discuss here — which tasks you should tackle and in what order.

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Eisenhower Matrix

But before we get there, we need to start with the problem: We have a bias for urgency, and it’s ruining our priorities.

Let’s understand why.

There’s the obvious reason — it’s urgent. If it doesn’t get done, bad things are going to happen. Right? Well, not exactly, but we’ll get back to that later.
The second reason is that it’s easier.

What do I mean by that?

Well, our monkey minds tend to be reactive by default. That means that we react to the stimuli around us first, and only then stop to consider whether that was the best course of action.

Urgent things stimulate our minds. They create a loop we need to close. There’s probably some merit to that mechanism. In ancient times, if you spotted a tiger nearby, there was no time to ponder about “what’s important in life,” you just ran for your life. You reacted, and it saved your life.

Today though, there are no tigers chasing you (I hope). We only have meetings we’re late to, errands we gotta take care of, and other people urging us to promote their agenda. Not exactly a life or death situation.

Most of you are probably familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix (AKA Eisenhower box/method/etc.). If you’re not, give it a read; it’s truly life-changing.

Sample Eisenhower Matrix

The main point is that we need to distinguish between the various combinations of Urgent and Important — the quadrants — as every quadrant should be treated differently.

Let’s examine the first quadrant — “Urgent and Important.”

If “avoid being eaten by tigers” was a task, it would surely be there.
It’s definitely important — you want to stay alive — and it’s also urgent — you need to take action right NOW or that tiger’s gonna get you.

If you were to avoid urgent tasks altogether and only tackle important “long-term” tasks, you’d end up as dinner. Context matters, prioritizing urgent tasks is not inherently “bad.”

But what about a pointless meeting with mandatory attendance? If you can contribute to it, it might also be important, but if not — it falls under “Urgent and Not Important.” That’s the kind of urgent you want to avoid as much as possible. The easy way out would be to attend. But that’ll take precious hours from your so often neglected “Important and Not Urgent” tasks.

The “Important and Not Urgent” tasks are your money makers. That quadrant is home to so many important, yet often neglected, areas of your life.
Your side hustle? It’s right there. Taking care of your body? Yup, that too.
Spending more time with your family? You see where this is going.

Most of the truly important things in our lives are in the “Important and Not Urgent” quadrant. Yet, most of us barely spend any time in it. We’re too busy with the urgent to even think about it.

It’s worth mentioning that there’s one more quadrant — “Not Important and Not Urgent.” That’s the busy work that we do to feel “productive.”

Avoid at all costs.

So, how do we go about changing things?

The first step in changing things is understanding there’s a problem.
There’s definitely a problem if you’re spending most of your time in the “Urgent and Important” quadrant. Or even worse, in the “Not Important and Not Urgent” quadrant.

The tricky part is that the actual problem isn’t the tasks. If you happen to have tasks that are both important AND urgent, your top priority is to handle them immediately. The real problem is neglecting tasks in the “Important and Not Urgent” quadrant, because over time, it creates a vicious cycle.

Every time you choose to attend another pointless meeting, instead of spending time with your family, you’re creating future Urgent and Important tasks. So, when you finally have time to go to the gym, AKA work on the Important tasks, you get into a fight with your partner. They feel neglected, and that’s something you need to deal with immediately. Without noticing, you’ve just added another Urgent and Important “task” to deal with, and the vicious cycle continues.

Luckily, that vicious cycle can turn into a virtuous cycle. It’s simple, but it ain’t easy. It requires you to prioritize Important and Not Urgent tasks over Urgent and Not Important tasks.

But how do we do that?

We must first fight our tendency to confuse urgency with importance.
The easiest way to do that is to make a conscious effort to constantly ask ourselves — is this thing important?

Over time, we will begin to see that most of our tasks are only urgent. Urgent tasks can be delegated, sometimes even completely avoided, if you negotiate wisely. You might even find out that a significant portion of your tasks are not even truly urgent. That may well be the case if you spend a significant portion of your time furthering other people’s agendas.

Once you start spending more time on important tasks, and less time on urgent tasks, a magical thing will begin to happen. You’ll suddenly notice that you barely have any urgent tasks to deal with.

Spend less time on urgent tasks — > Have fewer urgent tasks.

MAGIC.

  • Understand the different combinations of Urgency and Importance by studying the Eisenhower Matrix.
  • Don’t confuse urgency with importance
  • For every task, ask yourself is this truly important?
  • Spend more time doing important things, especially if they’re not urgent. These are the things that truly make a difference in your life.
  • By spending more time doing important things, you’ll end up reducing the number of urgent things you need to deal with.



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