I wrestle with this question everyday, if not several times a day. Most of the things pinging our brain for attention our merely urgent but often trivial.
In this brief, two-minute video clip, Behance founder and CEO Scott Belsky discusses how today often trumps tomorrow and what happens when it does. He then discusses how to distinguish between the urgent and the important.
Another great resource is Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First. In Chapter 3, “The Urgency Addiction,” he provides a framework for deciding whether or not a task is urgent, important or some combination thereof. Think of it as a 2 x 2 matrix:
We should prioritize our daily task list by determining which quadrant it is in. For example,
- Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent. These tasks should be our first priority. They go at the top of your to-do list. They are important, and they must be done today.
- Quadrant 2: Important But Not Urgent. These are the “tomorrow” tasks that Scott speaks about. They should be our second priority, because if we don’t do them, we will face the consequences in the future.
- Quadrant 3: Urgent But Not Important. These are those tasks that are urgent to someone else, but they are not important to us. They should be our third priority. Frankly, much of the email we receive and social media falls into this quadrant.
- Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important. These should simply be deleted from our daily task list. They are simply a distraction that keeps us from accomplishing those items in the first two quadrants.
Years ago, I used to actually plan my day using Covey’s matrix. I no longer do that, but it has become second nature to me.
Update: One of my readers pointed me to the Priority Matrix for iPhone. It is a 99¢ app, which replicates Covey’s model. I’d love to see something like this as a web app or software app.