Reality Check: Urgency and Importance

As we approach the end of a second unusual year, people are making plans for the holidays. So much is so different now. There are decisions to make about gatherings, purchases, and traditions. How do you decide what to do?
This seems like an appropriate time to look at a tool by Dr. Stephen Covey from his book, First Things First. He calls it the Time Management Matrix, which is a rather fancy name for a table with two columns and two rows.
Its purpose? To help us organize activities based on urgency and importance. Ask, “Is this task urgent or not urgent?” And, “Is the task important or not important?”
Urgency and importance are different, independent characteristics. A task may be urgent but not really important. Likewise, a very important task may not be urgent. To use our time effectively, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes categorizing our tasks this way.
For example, we often perceive urgency when we’re interrupted. The person standing in the doorway asking, “Do you have a minute?” the ringing phone, incoming texts. All seem urgent; are they also important? You decide.
Some important tasks are also urgent. Dealing with a crisis, deadlines at work, getting the kids off to school or a meal on the table all matter, and they are time-sensitive.
However, there are also important tasks of the non-urgent kind. Activities that build important relationships, that improve our skills, take care of health issues, and planning for the future come to mind. Their results tend to be longer term and they don’t necessarily bring us immediate satisfaction. Thus, it’s easy to let them get swept to the side as we deal with less important but seemingly urgent issues.
A category that deserves a careful look is tasks that are neither urgent nor important. If we were using cold logic, we’d ask, “Why would I ever spend time on things that are neither urgent nor important?” Yet there we are, checking social media, escaping into games or plopped mindlessly in front of the TV.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that all “non-productive” activities should be eliminated! No, no. We need to find ways to satisfy each of our needs. That phone call about nothing in particular with someone you care about may fill a need—the love & belonging need, even if it could be perceived as neither urgent nor important at the moment.
Likewise, TV, games, hobbies, and yes, even cat videos can satisfy our needs as well, such as the need for fun or for freedom.
It is up to you to decide where tasks fit. For example, you may consider spending time on an important relationship to be both urgent and important; someone else might see it differently.
As you make your plans, consider: Is this important? Is this urgent? Does it help to satisfy a need—either for me or for someone else? Asking those questions can help us pause and think before we mindlessly go ahead but later wonder, “Why am I doing this?”
Has your perspective about urgency and importance changed over recent years? If so, how?

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