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The Urgency of Importance

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I have had the privilege of spending the last week in the magnificent Cayman Islands with my brand new fiance. The water is clearer and the beaches whiter than anything I have ever seen, it could not be finer. Jamie and I have fallen in love with the island and thus decided to buy a Ritz-Carleton residence deckhouse. Not only does this place feel like heaven, it chalk full of the most wonderful people in the world. (The fact that the island is pretty much the only first world country in the Caribbean with one of the most secure bank systems in the world is not a bad deal either…)

After spending the last week here, and only having the time to take care of the most important things in my businesses, I had some time to think about the urgency of importance.

In Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he talks about the difference between Important and Urgent matters, and how dividing our time in a balanced way between those two types of activities can make us more or less effective.

It’s amazing how something that urgently demands our attention almost always seems to appear important.  But is it?  Understanding how to recognize the two as separate has really been an eye-opener for me and has helped me prioritize how I spend my time.

Urgent matters require our immediate attention; we react to urgent needs.  It could be something as simple as putting down a book we are studying to answer a question shouted from the next room.

Every one of us probably knows someone who’s permanently in crisis mode, constantly putting out fires, busy, busy, busy.  But, have you noticed, that type of person is frequently stuck somewhere shy of their goals because they never seem to have the time to get to the things they say are important to them?

I am not saying that urgent matters are always not important.  A true crisis must be tended to. But a problem—something like figuring out how to clear the cache on your computer so it runs smoother—must take a number and wait behind matters that actually are important.

Important activities are those that help you get closer to the goals you have set for yourself. Important tasks frequently are things we must do on our own initiative, without some outside circumstance creating a sense of urgency.  Important things come in all sizes, but usually require planning and effort, sometimes simply to prevent situations from becoming urgent. For example, taking care of your own body now is important because it may help you to avoid a future consumed by illness and urgent visits to the doctor. (I have barely missed the gym since I had this epiphany!)

We ignore important tasks early in the day or early in life, they have a way of escalating into urgent situations.

It’s probably becoming apparent that one thing that’s extremely important is to separate important tasks from urgent ones and assign them time appropriately.  Once you’ve clarified that something is important, it’s your responsibility to assign a sense of urgency and get it done. If you’re an entrepreneur, think about the aspects of your business that are urgent as opposed to important.  Consider delegating urgent tasks by getting an assistant. Your effectiveness will dramatically increase if you start spending by far the greatest percentage of your time attending to the important things. If you take care of the important tasks you’ll keep them from becoming urgent and reduce the amount of time devoted to crisis management in your life.

As I said, time for mortals is finite.  In fact, we never really know when we’ll run out of it.  To make matters more complicated, there turns out to be truth in the old saying that you never have enough time to do everything you’d like to do.  So you really do need to decide what is important, and take care of business!

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  • Geoffrey Siele

    Well explained. Nice eye opener on prioritization of important matters based on urgency. This will help forever.

  • Suzanne Thomas

    Congrats to you and Jamie! That is so exciting.

    Your words ring so true with deep inspiration. I am gonna watch next week what urgent and important things come up and how I deal with them. Excellent post Jay. Cheers!

  • Hi there Jay, really good one. I read the book too, it’s amazing.

  • Jay, you live a Blessed Life! The Caymans this time of year is incredible. Enjoy this special time in life with your fiance and soak it all in.

    Lets talk when you are back in the states on how we can create a strategic and profitable partnership with twitter and classified posting services.

    I look forward to talking more about your business model and mine and to talk about how PostandSend.com and Tweet My Message.com

    Take Care and Looking forward to meeting the living legend himself.

    David

  • Wow Jay what a great article, time management is arguably the most important task that we as human beings can master.

    Time is the one thing that we can never get back so it makes perfect sense that we should manage it properly.

    I really liked the correlation you made between important tasks and urgent ones,important tasks only become urgent when we don’t realize the importance in the first place.

    Once we learn how to prioritize our time our goals that we have set life begin to materialize.

    And always take care of the small stuff right away,because that small stuff ultimately turns into big stuff down the road.

    Congrats on the engagement,and enjoy your say on the Cayman Islands.

  • Rick Christman

    Jay, congratulations on the engagement and the purchase.

    Thanks for your insight into Important vs. Urgent matters. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

    Looking forward to seeing you in DR next month.

  • Great post, I recently took a month long vacation and ONLÝ took time for my most important work. It was my most profitable month in my business to date. Readers ask yourselves; what if you could only work 2 hours a day? What would you do and what would you leave aside or outsource?

  • It can be very easy to fall into the urgent category and convince yourself that you are doing the right thing by fighting all those fires and that you are simply so battered down by your workload that you cannot reach your goals. It’s the fear of success that holds a lot of people back and the wrong mindset – when you move past this step and realize what you have to do to succeed (what is important) then you will start to move forward, one day at a time…

    Good post Jay…!

  • JJ

    Great distinction, Jay. I deserved to read this. Keep posting. Now, make sure you keep Jamie on the important list… I know you will. Congrats!