Urgent vs. Important

When something is urgent, you rush to do it. When something is important, you prioritize it. In our everyday lives, we are forced to manage urgency and importance simultaneously. Especially in the creative environment, important projects require time and mental loyalty to complete. The “urgent” matters that arise with clients and general life management threaten to interfere with our long-term objectives.

You have goals that are important to you, and you have day-to-day problems that require urgent solutions. All too often, our tendency is to focus on fixing. “If it’s urgent, I’m on it,” you might proclaim. But how do we stay focused on our long-term goals? Can we really let everything that is merely “important” suffer at the mercy of urgent tasks? Especially for those of us that have families or passions of the utmost importance, how can we protect them? If you let urgent matters consume your time, you’ll never make progress on anything important.Especially productive leaders are able to multi-manage importance and urgency. Here are a few best practices to consider:

(1) Prioritize and recognize what doesn’t make the cut.

Recognize that compromise is a necessity. Some people narrow their list of important items to just five specific things. Family is often one of the five, along with a few other specific projects or passions that require everyday attention. The most important use of this list is to recognize what’s NOT on it. When urgent matters come up, the “important” stuff you are working on that didn’t make the list should be dropped. You will be surprised to see how much energy is spent on off-list items…

(2) Compartmentalize urgent matters as soon as they arise.

As fearsome humans, we tend to dwell on problems and conflicts. Dwelling takes time and distracts us from resolving the urgent items and returning to the important stuff. When it come to urgency, strive for a bias-to-action.

(3) Don’t hoard urgent items.

Despite how medial an urgent item might be, we have a desire to handle it ourselves. You might think, “Oh this thing is a quick fix, I’ll just do it myself.” Challenge yourself to delegate urgent items to others. Urgent does not mean complex.

(4) Take advantage of “windows of non-stimulation.”

Late nights and early mornings are precious opportunities to make progress on important items with little risk of urgent matters popping up.

This tip was written by Scott Belsky, Behance Team. Explore more tips, and check out Behance’s guest postings for small businesses trying to make ideas happen, hosted at American Express’ OpenForum.

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