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Urgent vs. Important: Define Your Business Priorities

Our world is getting increasingly complex and busy. As it does, the ability to Focus is also becoming more important. Do you get to the end of the day and feel that you’ve met your most pressing deadlines but haven’t accomplished anything that’s of long-term importance? Are you distinguishing between urgent vs. important?

We are often deadline-driven and as such focus on completing the shortest deadline tasks. In business, the problem with this is we often focus on less important deadlines (urgent) but don’t accomplish the important tasks that will make the biggest impact and net us the biggest reward.

It’s natural to want to get deadline-driven tasks squared away and off your to-do list. It feels good to reduce the items on the list. A paradox many business owners face is that the most meaningful tasks are less likely to have deadlines than tasks that are relatively unimportant.

Some important priorities you might have are:

  • Improving vital skills (taking a course, developing a better technique)
  • Better training for employees
  • Enacting and reinforcing company values
  • Strategic planning for market changes, growth, employee needs, etc.

If you’re like most business owners, these priorities slip to the back of your mind while you work on low-importance, time-specific tasks, such as clearing out your email inbox or writing a monthly blog.

So, what can you do? Unfortunately, there is no one right answer for everyone. But here are a few tips to get you started working on more important tasks, and not just urgent ones.

Get a Clear Vision of Your Big Picture

When we have our heads bent working on the day-to-day, it’s hard to have enough mental space to see the big picture. And worse, if you can’t see the big picture you cannot prioritize activities that are going to get you to the end you desire.

Take a strategic break and focus on the big picture. Ask yourself:

  • What matters the most?
  • What things have gotten you the biggest impact?
  • What is the gap between your current reality and your dreams?
  • Face reality. Where is the majority of your time spent? Is it spent on unimportant immediate tasks or important long-term goals?

Whatever helps you see the big picture, don’t skip those things. Also, give yourself time after those activities to figure out how you’re going to translate your insights into specific plans and actions. If you’re struggling with defining what is urgent vs. important, don’t be too hard on yourself. Changing behaviors and habits takes time. But, like anything in life, it is one step at a time towards improvement.  

Schedule Important Tasks

If you want it to happen, you have to schedule it in detail. Schedule the when and the where especially to distinguish urgent vs. important. 

These are important, impactful tasks, so make sure to schedule enough time to give them the importance they need. This helps especially with those tasks that you have long been procrastinating. These tasks are often not cookie-cutter-type items and require more time investment, but remember that they are worth it.

Break Large Tasks Up

Big tasks or projects often require incremental progress. Break the tasks into smaller steps, processes, or parts. 

For example, I know that I can only focus for about 90 minutes. Therefore, breaking huge tasks down into smaller tasks that will only take me 90 minutes or so, and then scheduling a time/place to accomplish each part has proven to be very successful for me.  

Anticipate Feelings of Anxiety & Have Courage

Many important tasks involve thinking about things that could go or have gone wrong. This causes most people a great deal of anxiety. Examples: updating a marketing plan, hiring new staff, improving a process, reviewing quarterly progress, having a critical conversation with an employee, or chipping away at a huge project. 

These tasks often force us to have the courage to face shortcomings, dreams, and, of course, our reality. Broadly speaking, working on important things typically requires having good skills for tolerating uncomfortable emotions. When this happens, label the emotion, accept the discomfort, and face the task with courage remembering your goal and the impact of accomplishing this task.

An abstractly colorful human figure is crouched to run on the left side, then pushing off into a fast run, then running quickly, then running arms raised through a finish line ribbon.

Spend Less Time on Unimportant Tasks

Unimportant tasks have a nasty tendency to take up more time than they should. For example, you might sit down to write a social media post and, before you know it, you’ve spent an hour perusing the social media posts of others. Make sure to keep yourself accountable for your time and effort, and don’t let yourself get distracted by unimportant side tasks. Treat it like a video game, if you want: side quests should be as short as possible.

The 4 D’s

One approach to unimportant tasks is to run them through the 4 D’s to determine how to handle the task:

  • Delegate – Can someone else perform the task?
  • Discard – If not important, does it really have to be done?
  • Delay – Some things resolve themselves when delayed for a time.
  • Define – Clearly define the exact task, do it, and move on!

Another approach is to systemize your processes: look for ways to automate or streamline your workflow. Look for patterns or recurring tasks that you do, consider urgent vs. important, then develop a process to more efficiently address those tasks that can be automated and stick to the process. For example, if you place an order for supplies weekly: Can it be automated? Can a default order be put in place?

Changing your behaviors from doing urgent things to doing the most important things can seem daunting, but it is worth it. Many clients tell me that they “can’t focus on the important things, because there are too many urgent things.” If this sounds like you, remember as you make changes that the number of urgent things will decrease, and you will find more time and pleasure in doing the important things.

If you would like an outside perspective to help you get your tasks done and find out what is important to you, feel free to schedule a free consultation.