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Should You Focus on Tasks That Are More Important or Urgent?

How many times have we accomplished important tasks only to be troubled by the implications of not focusing on urgent tasks or vice versa? Sometimes, we get overwhelmed by the number of tasks we have at hand but fail miserably in deciding which to focus on. What is the difference between these two tasks and does it matter?
Here’s the difference between an important task and an urgent one. An important task is an assignment that when completed, results in the accomplishment of our goals. It does not necessarily have a set deadline. An urgent task, on the other hand, has a deadline or a timeframe that requires our immediate attention.
woman talking on phone holding a book
With this in mind, which task should you focus on? Logically, tasks that need to be completed within a short time should be at the top of your to-do list. After all, these are the tasks that would result in immediate implications if not accomplished according to the set time frame. However, here’s a common misconception: an urgent task is similar to an important task. This is not necessarily the case as a task can be urgent but unimportant. For example, replying to emails and messages or accepting a friend’s spontaneous invitation to meet up. Although we obtain satisfaction from completing this kind of tasks, they do not directly contribute to our goals as compared to important tasks.
On the other hand, an important task does not necessarily require urgency. A few examples of these tasks are exercising, setting up new furniture and spending time with family. Nevertheless, we often have a bad habit of focusing on urgent but unimportant tasks because we are fixated on the idea that urgent tasks should be prioritised over other tasks. As a result, it cripples our productivity as we end up neglecting what’s important. Hence, here’s how you should focus on these tasks:

1. The Eisenhower principle

Source: Matty Ford
The Eisenhower principle, based on former US President Eisenhower’s method of organising his tasks, looks into separating the tasks into two categories, “important” and “urgent”, to be able to identify them. Once this is done, separate them once more into four different categories:
  1. Urgent and Important
  2. Not Urgent but Important
  3. Urgent but Not Important
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important
Identify which tasks best fit each category to effectively prioritise your work. Your order of priority for the categorised tasks should start with the “important and urgent” tasks followed by the “important but not urgent” tasks. Next, you should prioritise the “not important but urgent tasks” and finally “not important and not urgent” tasks.

2. Time management

As the famous saying goes, “time is precious.” Therefore, time has to be managed wisely. Allocate a set time to focus on tasks that are important and urgent. Prioritise and make it your goal to complete it by the deadline. Proper time management allows you to focus on a specific task without worrying about the other tasks you have scheduled for later. That being said, if you’re unable to complete the task within the set time, do not leave it incomplete before moving on to the next one. Aim to finish this task. After all, this is a task that you have prioritised as urgent and important.

3. Know Your Limit working at night

Do not simply take on responsibilities and pile up your tasks. This only adds to your stress and defeats the purpose of trying to focus and complete your tasks effectively. Writing down all of your tasks in your to-do list for the day will only result in discouragement when you observe that there are incomplete tasks left at the end of the day. Instead, identify the tasks that need to be completed by the end of the day. For example, if you need to complete tasks that are “urgent but unimportant” by the end of the day while tasks that are “important but not urgent” can wait longer, prioritise the former and allocate another time for the latter. Focus on what is needed to be completed by the end of the day.
To summarise, knowing the difference between important and urgent tasks is crucial as it allows you to determine the significance of each task thus allowing you to manage your time more efficiently. Remember that it is key to know which tasks to prioritise and to be able to complete them effectively.

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