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Important or Urgent Tasks – what is the Difference?

October 3rd, 2007 · 1 Comment

We are faced with jobs, errands, and projects that require our immediate attention every day. Tasks from personal chores (picking up the dry cleaning) to professional obligations (finishing the report by 5 p.m.) weigh on our minds regularly. Trying to decide which to do when can be a challenge.To help determine priorities, let’s first consider what the difference between important and urgent is when both have a deadline. The stress that is associated with the deadline will play a part in determining which label these jobs get. Important tasks are jobs that provide significant value. Even if they will yield long-term benefits, without an immediate deadline your approach to completing them may be somewhat relaxed.

Urgent tasks tend to have looming deadlines, and so your approach to them is quite a bit more frenzied. Either you have procrastinated and not done what needed to be done in preparation (which can turn an important task into an urgent one), or you found yourself taking care of a mistake that was made which created this task and its quickly approaching deadline. In thinking about the deadline of an urgent task, you’re likely to get anxious and frustrated. This will always cause lower quality work, which can cyclically create more anxiety and frustration.

When you are incessantly bombarded with crisis management issues instead of focused, prioritized work, the adrenaline that results from stress kicks in. It becomes addictive, but it is not healthy. Breaking the routine of constantly responding to urgent matters while delaying work on important projects may take some effort.

In order to start prioritizing your work so that you are sure you are focusing on the most valuable work, not just the most immediate demands, recognize when an important task has switched over into urgent. What could you have done differently? Could you have broken the project into smaller pieces and scheduled the components on your calendar?

The more time and attention you can give to completing an important job, the higher your quality of work will be. Waiting until it becomes urgent, or ignoring it altogether as you deal with the crisis du jour, is not a productive use of your time or an effective way to run a company.

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Tags: Stress Management · Task Management · Time Management

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 John Crenshaw // Oct 3, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    There is a huge question of “important when?” For example, when I am in the office, honey-dos, personal favors, buying birthday presents, etc. are all very much NOT important, while tasks for sales, product rollout, or other things may be top priority. When I am at home there is a reversal, none of my hundreds of work related tasks are important, but it might be critical to go buy that present. Oddly, the urgency doesn’t change with location, the deadline is what it is.

    I guess my point is that urgency changes as time marches on, while importance changes as the individual marches on. Focusing on urgent things will cause a person to worry about the wrong stuff at the wrong time and create stress.