From time to time I’ll highlight a specific point made in a book I’ve read in the past. The book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is an all-time classic. I believe the best point made in that book is understanding the difference between tasks that are urgent versus those that are important.
In his book, Stephen Covey defines urgent as something that “requires immediate action.” Conversely Covey defines importance as something that “contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals”. Using these two components, a task can be any of the following:
- Important but not urgent
- Urgent but not important
- Neither important nor urgent
- Both important and urgent
Obviously we don’t want to prioritize tasks that are not important, even if they appear urgent (for example taking a phone call from somebody you would rather not speak to).
What we’re left focusing on are tasks that are important and urgent, as well as tasks that are important but not urgent. As you’ll see it’s the tasks that are important but not urgent that matter most. Being able to recognize this is critical to living out your life with the correct priorities.
Important And Urgent Tasks
Tasks that fall under this category typically occur when you’re pressed for time. In my life this could look like submitting a job application that’s due in three hours or picking up my brother from school. These tasks are essential because, well I’d be a pretty lousy person if I blew off picking up my brother, and failing to submit an application before the deadline would be completely irresponsible.
Important and urgent tasks are what I like to categorize as putting out fires, They’re the things that keep us preoccupied and stressed. Completing tasks of this nature can relieve our anxiety levels and give us gratification for getting stuff done. The problem is if we only focus on “putting out fires”, we can never arrive to the most essential tasks in life. These “essential” tasks fall under our next category.
Important But Not Urgent Tasks
These are the types of tasks we know are important but because they’re not urgent we relegate them to “later when I have more time.” Examples include exercising, spending time with loved ones, reading, and planning for the future. What you’ll notice is these tasks are very important to living a fulfilling and meaningful life, and I’d argue even more important than the aforementioned “important and urgent” tasks. But would you say these tasks are urgent? Most likely not.
This essentially is where the problem lies. The things that are most important in life are the same things we continuously put off. We are too busy dealing with “important and urgent” matters (putting out fires) we lose sight of the things that we’ll be grateful for down the road. Eventually the important tasks that weren’t urgent suddenly transform into urgent matters. Having a heart condition from a lack of exercise is urgent. Addressing a failing relationship because you didn’t put the time in is urgent.
We all can do a better job devoting time to things that are important but not urgent. Don’t be the person who says “life happened” or “life got in the way” when making an excuse for not keeping in touch with loved ones. An effective strategy is to time block a portion of your day to something important but not urgent. Even 15 minutes daily can make all the difference. This may seem burdensome now but you’ll thank yourself down the road.
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