Important Versus Urgent: Urgent Wins Hands Down

Important versus urgent!  The urgent wins hands down everyday! Do you know anyone not rushing about regularly? Even teenagers attending school have joined the daily mad dash. Social networks, video games, and other activities have overtaken their lives. Excellent tools such as iPhones, iPads, and other gadgets with potential to help organize our priorities, now drive busyness. We are slaves to these tools.

The Important versus The Urgent Search
The Important versus The Urgent Search

After getting out of bed each morning, how long before you check your email, Facebook account, Twitter, or other site? I know. It is a struggle to leave the email, iMessage, or other tool until a set time you decide in advance.

What are we going to do about this? We cannot continue with this busyness. It causes stress and leads to serious problems. Heart disease, stress, poor work habits, family challenges, are a few. Besides, it leaves folks unfulfilled while chasing their tails. Sure, we know we must decide between the urgent and important and work with priorities. However, how do we build these ideas in our day to get rid of the continuing stress? Folks tell me they just don’t have time to stop.

Think about it; we don’t have time! What a silly phrase?  Each of us has 24 hours daily. We don’t accept this so we deflect our lack of planning elsewhere. The problem isn’t time. Its me, you, each of us. It’s nobody’s fault but our own.

Let me share what you know already, probably in a different form. By God’s grace, this might get your attention. We need to understand and develop strategies to deal with the urgent and the important.

Important Versus Urgent – Urgent Wins

Important versus urgent is a no contest challenge! The urgent wins over the important every time. Often, the urgent appears convenient requiring little time, and no preparation. Usually it is one-off. So, why not attend to it now? Sadly, several ‘convenient,’ urgent interactions will slaughter your priorities. Each will require more time that you anticipate.

We must identify and respond to urgent situations on our terms. Typically, the urgent means somebody is imposing on our time: boss, spouse, children, colleague, friend. The challenge is how to distinguish which urgent items need our response. Basically, which imposition we must accept, and which we will choose t. Here is my simplistic three-step suggestion.

First, accept you can choose to reject many urgent requests.

Important Versus Urgent: Urgent Wins
Important Versus Urgent: Urgent Wins

Second, decide that your default reaction to the discretionary urgent will be inaction. To help decide your final action, ask: what’s the result if I ignore this now?

The phone is ringing while you are having supper with your wife. You hear the email ‘dinging’ sound. Your colleague opens your office door unannounced with a ‘problem.’ Train yourself to process these from your default position in less than a minute, and learn when to say no, and when to say not now.

Beware; there are non medical emergencies that suck you into action. They are disguised urgencies. Ask the same questions as before. You can plan to deal with many of these emergencies. You know they will happen, but you don’t know when. The car will need tires, need maintenance. The fridge will break. You can set aside funds for them regularly, and when they happen a lack of funds won’t create an emergency. Do preventive maintenance, save regularly to repair and replace cars, stoves, and so on.

Third, accept your seductive gadgets—phones, tablets, video game consoles—and social network sites, are significant time wasters. You can conquer these only if you decide never to use them unless you ‘work for time.’ You must learn when to ‘work for time’ and when to ‘work for task.’ You work for time when you set specific start and end times tasks. Do deal with emails, visit Facebook, or other similar activities unless you set an end time. Use a timer.

Important versus urgent decision are difficult because the urgent often causes an emotional reaction. A colleague invites you to a meeting and you feel you need to go. However, meetings are urgent-impostor. They devour time and lead you to conclude, “I don’t have time,” which is absurd. Always set start and end times, and have an agenda for each. Most meetings waste time and nobody seems to want to the champion get rid of meetings. Sometimes when an organization has too many people, one way to pass the time is to meet.

The urgent is seductive, often appearing to need a little time while demanding minimal input.

Important Needs Planning – Urgent might not

Usually inconvenient and needs planning, the important is not as attractive as the urgent. Here is where your gadget tools can help set priorities. The important will need thought, reflection, and might not look busy. With the important, you are not rushing about putting out fires. Unlike the urgent which is reactive, this is proactive. I think this is a significant reason people move to the urgent and away from the important.

Here is my three-step suggestion to work with the important.

First, do not work with a to-do list. Have a list of projects from which daily you take at least one item and slot in your day timer. Set a specific time when you will meet with you to work on priorities. Do not accept calls or interruptions during that time. Let others know this is your time. Tell them you are dead. Something comes up, they should ask: what would they do if you were dead? Do it!

Second, daily, look one week ahead to see how your schedule is going and what might need deferring to a precise later date to stay with current priorities. Identify specific projects, meetings, and affected parties and reschedule to a later time.

Third, schedule your day with breaks between meetings and activities. Leave time in between for reflection and recharging, and to return important calls.


You have a choice. Continue rushing about and bear the effects. You might get a heart attack, become a poor role model, or lose your job for sloppy work. Alternatively, decide to move away from allowing the urgent to lead you. Accept that the important will need thought and reflection. It’s pace might be slower pace. However, working with priorities will improve productive, lower stress, and you will feel more fulfilled. But most of all, you will get to cherish your relationships.

For more on time issues, visit Managing God’s Time.

Copyright © 2012, Michel A. Bell

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Michel A. Bell

Michel A. Bell is a former senior business executive, author of five books, speaker, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. Michel graduated from Massachuetts Institute of Technology with a masters of science in management. He is founder and president of Managing God's Money, a private mission devoted to teaching biblical stewardship of time, talent, money and other resources. Visit Managing God's Money

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