Prioritizing Urgency vs. Importance
Understanding what your company is and where you want to take it on an esoteric level is important for a number of reasons. Of course, the aforementioned discussion is pertinent, however, in terms of practical application this deeper comprehension of what you are will allow you to avoid wasted time and disorganized structure. A major pitfall that many young ventures fall into is only addressing what is deemed as “urgent” without spending a sufficient amount of time on longer more strategic initiatives that require a longer burn – founders need to think 3-steps ahead and getting bogged down in the weeds of every day issues will not only derail your timelines but kills your passion and drive, as well.
- Is this “action” truly urgent (i.e. critical to mission success) or are outside pressures influencing my understanding of “urgency”?
- Will solving this “issue” get me closer to my goals or am I simply checking a box to feel productive?
- If I apply a different perspective to the issue at hand, does my viewpoint change? Does the issue seem more or less urgent/important?
Time stressors are a major source of pressure and stress in any workplace and are the result of having too much to do in too little time. It goes without saying that certain tasks and responsibilities take priority over others, however, identifying the nexus between importance and urgency is a priceless ability that often means the difference between success and failure in both a professional and personal capacity. This assessment strategy is largely attributed to former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower who famously stated, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” So, then, what tasks are “important” and what tasks are “urgent”?
- Important activities are decided by the impact or significant change it can have on your life and have an outcome that leads to achieving one’s goals, whether professional or personal. These items require planning and thoughtful action. When spending time on important matters you manage your time and energy rather than mindlessly expending valuable resources. What is important is subjective and depends on your own values and personal goals.
- Urgent activities are governed by deadlines and other external factors, require immediate attention and are often dictated by someone else’s goals or requirements. They are unavoidable, but spending too much time putting out fires can produce a great deal of unnecessary stress and lead to burnout.
Because urgent activities require immediate attention, entrepreneurs often find themselves in a constant state of “firefighting”, unable to give proper focus or time to the issues that truly matter; the issues that will help you reach your ultimate objectives. This causes the professional sensation of running on a treadmill because you’re constantly battling but not getting anywhere. To overcome this common pitfall, succinct and calculated strategy is a necessity for staving off collapse or failure when the unexpected occurs.
A common strategy used to assess urgency vs. importance is the Eisenhower Matrix (below) – list all activities and projects that you feel you must complete, however important, and begin placing each in one of the four boxes below.
Activities with clear deadlines and consequences for not taking immediate action
Activities without a set deadline but will bring you closer to your ultimate goals
Activities that need to get done but don’t require a specified skill or ability. Busy work.
Activities that take up time and distract you from your goals; don’t add any measurable value
By looking at this analysis table, it becomes clear that the more intrinsically connected you are to your goals and mission, the easier and more natural time management becomes. Depending on your level of experience, outside perspective is often critical to this evaluation, however, no one else can define what is important for you. This simple exercise necessitates self-reflection and internal analysis and forces the individual to prioritize tasks and activities that are most significant to the core mission of the company. By separating busy work from intrinsically important work, you create proper time for the actions that truly matter while reducing unnecessary stress and missed deadlines.