Pushing Through Urgent to Get to Important

In an earlier article, I alluded to the notion that everyone should give themselves the gift of time.  Coming off a long weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I’ve had the time to reflect and get in the right headspace going into a week of work – a short week at that.  Problem is, I’d almost set myself up to fail in that regard.  After giving my head a shake, I put myself in a position to elevate my weekend and make the most of my time, not the least of it.  I had a ton of baggage that was weighing me down.  I had to cut some of it loose.

I did it by pushing through the urgent and getting to the important.

I had a lot to get done this weekend – it was going to be a part-pleasure/part-business affair.  In order to have a fresh slate going into the coming week I had to gain perspective on everything that was going on in my life and tackle the tasks accordingly.  I wrote them all down as they came to me.  It went something like this:

  • finish installing laminate flooring
  • clean out storage room
  • clean out shed
  • mow lawn
  • edge lawn
  • prepare recycling for pick up
  • review “marked” emails
  • write articles
  • edit film footage
  • edit podcast
  • get bike looked at
  • review spreadsheet numbers

Oh, and it was Easter weekend.  I also hadn’t included any family time in there, either.  This list was getting long.  Yet there was something missing.  I knew this because I felt ill just looking at the thing.  What was missing was the stuff I knew was important (as illustrated by the fact that “spend time with family” didn’t even appear on my list!) and I started to wonder why it never made the first draft.  Then it hit me.

There were a lot of things on my list that I didn’t even realize I was slacking on.  For example, the laying of laminate flooring was something that had been lined up since last summer.  I’d like to say that the reason I’d let it slide for so long was that I misunderstood what they meant by “fully seasoning” the wood – as of March 20, 2010 I could say it was “fully seasoned” as it had been in our house for all four seasons.  That was nonsense…and my subconscious didn’t think it was as funny as I did on the surface.

I could also say that I had expected my father to help out with the project when he was staying with us.  That never happened, either.  What it ultimately boiled down to was it was something I really didn’t want to get it done – as important as it was.  Only as my wife entered her third trimester did I realize that it was no longer important.  It was now important AND urgent.  That’s why I hated looking at it.  That’s also why it was at the top of my list.

I breathed deeply and revised the list, taking into account both things that were urgent and important, or just plain important.  Here’s what I ended up with:

  • finish installing laminate
  • organize storage areas
  • write!
  • do the lawn
  • spend time with my family
  • write!
  • review my “inboxes”
  • write!
  • edit film footage
  • write!
  • prepare bike for commuting
  • write!

What I did was put the biggest “urgent” I had to push through at the top.  Then I combined the storage area and shed tasks into one and reworded it as “organize” – because it feels more pleasurable to me than “clean.”  It creates an aura of accomplishment for me in a better sense than simply cleaning it.  Organizing for me implies cleaning.  I also made the lawn chores one tasks, because it basically is.

I put the act of writing in there several times because it’s incredibly important to me and by getting through the urgent tasks I could see several opportunities to indulge in my passion.  I wasn’t specific about what or how to write because I felt I had too many urgent things in there and adding some free-flow writing in there would be a better “important” to pursue.  I also find that once I sit down to write I tend to structure it right before I begin the process anyway.

I removed some tasks altogether (prepare recycling, edit podcast) because they were neither urgent or important – but they’ll be on next week’s list.  In fact, they are already.

I only wrote down “spend time with my family” once because once I start to do it tends to filter itself in as the time goes.  It ends up happening in some form or another anyway – interruptions when you have a 5-year-old daughter and a pregnant wife are hard to avoid  – and I don’t want to, either.  If I didn’t write it down I could get caught up in everything else, though.  Allocating time for it is the best way to make sure that it takes place no matter what.  Heck, I was even able to make my bike preparation part of family time when my daughter and I walked to the bike shop together!  Twenty minutes well spent.

I woke up after the long weekend ended with a fresh slate and a real sense of accomplishment.  The floors are done; my bike’s on the mend and my life is a little less cluttered.  Taking the time for myself to take care of business on my extended time off ensured I could take care of business once the workday began.

Break through the urgent to get to the important when you’ve fallen behind so that you can make the important times last that…much…longer.

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Mike Vardy an editor on Work Awesome. We could tell you where his personal productivity parody site, Eventualism and all of his other projects reside on the web, but you'd be best served going to Vardy.me and following the trail of virtual bread crumbs from there.


  1. The Simple Machine on the 8th April

    I think writing down a list of things that need to be done actually creates a sense of urgency. I usually carry this list in my pocket and every time reach in the pocket I am reminded to complete the tasks.

    The problem I find is that the list has to be long enough to create this sense of urgency, otherwise it is not effective enough.

    I have tried keep an ongoing to-do list several times, but when the list is small it loses its value.

    I figure the problem stems from the fact that we sabotage our lives by being ignorant, lazy or stupid. I wrote a post about this last week @ http://www.thesimplemachine.com/sabotaging-life/

  2. Yaritsa on the 9th April

    I always have problems prioritizing. Sometimes even if I have a list, I find myself skipping around. But at the very least, having a written list that I can cross off gives me a sense of accomplishment.

    This is a great post to help organize your to-dos and make them look a little less overwhelming. 🙂

  3. Julius on the 9th April

    In my case, I tend to consider things as urgent based on the length of time to do and finish the task. So I end up doing urgent things that aren’t really important. I appreciate how this post reminded me that the duration of the task shouldn’t matter too much and that important activities need more attention.

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