How to decide whats Urgent vs Important


& FILED IN Priorities & Goals

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Let me ask you something. are you able to work out what in your life is urgent vs important?

Are you constantly finding you come to the end of your day only to see that you haven’t got anything done that you actually wanted to do?

Have you spent all day meeting demands that have cropped up, and that weren’t the way you planned to spend your time?

That’s no way to live – you end up always chasing your plans, being forever behind, and never quite reaching your goals.

How to decide what's urgent vs what's important - making the distinction can help no end...

 © Ileanaolaru |

Do you really want to end up one day looking back and thinking about what could have been, if only you had had the time?

There is a way to get more done with your time – and that is being able to determine what you actually spend time on, and prioritising accordingly.

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Urgent vs. Important

Knowing the difference between whats urgent and whats important in your everyday life is one of the key ways of being able to manage your time more effectively, and become more aware of where you are wasting your time.

Every day we are faced with tasks, some are scheduled and some are unexpected additions, and our TO DO list seems to just expand with time rather than get any smaller – sound familiar?

Knowing the difference and being able to spot whats urgent and whats important will help you in seeing where you need to spend your time, and slowly enable you to control your time better than ever.

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Whats Urgent and whats Important?

  • URGENT is something that has a time restriction or demand
  • IMPORTANT is something that is valued to you

Lets look at a chart, which lays it all out to you, and then I can take you through each of the 4 quadrants in detail:-

urgent vs. important grid via


I like to call each of the numbers a specific name – as I tend to! – and they are easier to remember like this:-

1 = Urgent and Important “FIREFIGHTING”

2 = Not Urgent and Important “GROWING”

3 = Urgent and Not Important “DRAINING”

4 = Not Urgent and Not Important “WASTING”

Now – to go through them in more detail and show you exactly how they can help you to see things more clearly in your life.

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Anything that is both urgent AND important are things that demand your time and energy there and then, and everything else has to be left alone til later.

Type 1 = emergencies outside of your control

These are usually emergencies such as illness, breakdown, family emergency etc…..

You need to be aware that these types of things happen, and expecting them along the way will help in your time management.

Type 2 = self inflicted emergencies

Other things that make their way into this section are more self inflicted – such as a looming deadline that you have to hit, a missed birthday that you need to send card/present for, a school play that needs a costume today etc….

These are things that should have been planned out, with enough time to do them comfortably, but that got lost on the way and are now critical.

The key is to try and minimise the type 2 emergencies as much as you possibly can – with good day to day time management.

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These are items that are important but not urgent. Things like:-

  • Personal Development
  • Progressing your career
  • Getting fit
  • Eating well
  • Learning a new skill
  • Home maintenance
  • Achieving your goals

This is totally where all of your work and life tasks should ideally be.

They are items that will push you towards your goals, but there is no time limit on them so they can be completed when you have the time.

These should be the main part of your TO DO list (otherwise why bother adding them to your TO DO list at all!?)

Obviously you can see that if you don’t manage your TO DO list and schedule tasks into your diary regularly, items will gradually move from this section to the FIREFIGHTING section i.e. if you don’t regularly maintain your boiler in your home then one day is may well breakdown and need immediate attention, money and stress – so this is where you have to use your new found time/diary management skills to keep on top of everything – scheduling in a regular maintenance appointment with a plumber will ensure that your boiler is always working to its optimum level.

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Items that are urgent but not important go in this section – they are things that have a timeframe to be done by, but aren’t important.

Take a second to think about what sorts of things you would add to this section that you currently do – things that you have probably said yes to doing when you really wanted to say no, for instance.

Now ask yourself why are you letting them get in the way of your GROWING tasks?

Who wants lots of items that drain them in their lives?

Not me and I am sure not you!.

Endless phone calls (sales calls etc…), emails, junk mail, people constantly demanding your time and energy on things that aren’t important, the list is unfortunately endless.

You would be amazed at how much time the average office worker loses in their day by interruptions, and not only the interruption but also the time lost in getting back into the work that was interrupted. We simply don’t need this in our lives if we want to be more time savvy.

Take a look at a typical day – how much of your time is wasted by items such as those listed above?

Write it down and really see how its affecting how much you are getting done.

Can you do something about the distractions?

Why not try working from home for some of the week, or going into a meeting room to get an important piece of work done, or how about not answering the phone and letting it go to voice mail ready for you to deal with when convenient, reading emails once a day only, planning your time so that you can get something done when you are by yourself etc….

Its only when you see that an item is in this section that you can see its value (or lack of) in your life.

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This section is without a doubt the worst of them all.

In here are items that aren’t important and aren’t urgent either. Quite simply, why would you spend any time at all on items such as these?

I’m not even going to write much about this one as its so self explanatory.

Take anything off your TO DO list NOW that lies in this category – trust me – it will make you smile!

Struggling to think of things? how about watching TV that isn’t important to you (flicking endlessly through the channels, Lie Ins for the sake of it, mending an item of clothing that you actually won’t wear again, etc…

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So – whats the key to balancing urgent vs important things?

Ideally, in a perfect life you would want everything you do to be in the GROWING section – where you are constantly learning and striving towards your goals without interruption.

This of course will never be realistic – as things do happen in life, and we can spend our time in ways that don’t help us achieve our dreams – but that’s fine as long as we are aware of the fact that this is what’s happening.

How to decide what's urgent vs what's important - making the distinction can help no end...Over the coming week, try and work out which area everything you do falls into – and see what the spread is. If you are finding you are spending an inordinate amount of time on DRAINING or WASTING activities, then you may want to evaluate things, and if you spend your time FIREFIGHTING you may want to ask yourself whether this is due to your lack of time skills, or whether you are taking responsibility of things you can and should delegate a little more. If you are in the GROWING section more often than not – then carry on doing just what you’re doing – and well done!

What type of activities do you find yourself spending the most amount of time on? I’d love to know so please leave a comment below…

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