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Important or Urgent: How to Categorize Your Activities and Achieve Your Goals

September 10, 2018

Fall is definitely in the air. On my walk today, I noticed the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds beginning to pop out of their green summer splendor . . . and felt myself going into panic mode. Fall is upon us, meaning Q4 is upon us, meaning it’s almost the end of 2018. Have I achieved my goals for the year?


Fortunately, I can answer a resounding YES!


This year, I’ve embarked on a 90-day agile accelerator process – one I developed and adopted after diving into books like 12-Week Year, Traction, and refamiliarizing myself with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The process enabled a way for me to name and achieve my goals in 90-day chunks, accomplishing things much faster than I would’ve been able to, had I allowed myself a full 365 days to do them.


So, why the panic attack on my beautiful, colorful walk?



I began thinking about all the items remaining on my list for my third sprint – that is, my third 90 days in 2018. This particular sprint ends on September 30 and not only includes the goals I’ve set for myself, but ones I’ve set for my expanding client base. It looked pretty massive in my head.


Then, I remembered something I had just coached a client on, and that was: which of the items on my list are “important” and which are “urgent”?


In a famous speech back in the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower quoted Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, who said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Dubbed the “Eisenhower Decision Principle”, the former president used this process to stay organized. He looked at two kinds of activities:


  1. URGENT activities – ones that need your immediate attention and are often associated with achieving someone else’s goals, and

  2. IMPORTANT activities – ones that have an outcome that leads you to achieving your own goals, personal and professional.


Business leader and author Stephen Covey popularized Eisenhower’s Decision Principle and created a decision matrix to help people get clear about what’s important and not important, and what’s urgent and not urgent.


I used this matrix to get more strategic about the things I needed to finish up in September, categorizing the activities on my plate into one of the following categories:


1. Important and urgent


These activities are either ones that you couldn’t have foreseen, or ones that you’ve left until the last minute. Since we can’t always predict those unforeseen activities it’s important that we leave some time in our weekly schedules to handle unplanned, important and urgent activities.


Case in point, I had two such activities come up last week. First, a new client had a time-sensitive event that needed promoting immediately. Then, a new speaking opportunity came my way and I needed to prepare for it. These were unexpected, but urgent and important. Having a little time built in to prepare for something like this may have prevented my panic attack.


2. Important but not urgent


These are the activities I encourage business owners to focus on regularly. They are the things that allow you to work “on” your business instead of “in” it. They are the strategic planning sessions, the big-picture thinking time, and the things that keep you on track so that it doesn’t become urgent.


One such example for me is having regular time to strategize about my business. By constantly reviewing and updating my objectives, plans, and tactics, I am more present with my daily activities. My 90-Day Agile Accelerator process helps me do this and it is the backbone of sessions with my coaching clients. When you can sit with your plan regularly, you’ll have a much better handle on what’s next, and your best paths forward.


3. Urgent but not important


These are the activities that keep you from achieving your goals. They can be things like constant interruptions from others (you know that person who always has a “quick question”), or items on your to do list that can easily be managed by someone else.


This is one of the harder ones for business owners to wrangle because we can sometimes be control freaks (present company included). We think we’re the only ones who can do it. I’m getting better, and you can ask my marketing manager this . . . I’m trying to delegate more. Delegate the urgent but not important things and you will feel much better and have more time to handle items in categories 1 & 2.


4. Not urgent and not important


These activities are the distractions on your to do list. Perhaps you added it to your list because you thought it was important – like attending a webinar or a networking meeting. Perhaps it’s just “stuff” that distracts you during the day, like emails, promotional offers, Facebook, and other non-important things that can get batched or eliminated. Get clear about whether it’s truly important or urgent. If it’s neither, get it off your list.


What’s Next?


Once I was clear about the categories each of my tasks fell in, I was clearer about what needed to be done, and better able to manage my time. I was able to carve out more time for items that fell in the #2 category, followed by #1. Then, I determined which of the category #3 items could be delegated or perhaps grouped into chunks of work.


I encourage and challenge you to spend the first hour of every week getting clear about what’s urgent and important for this week, and the first 15 minutes of each day getting clear about what’s urgent and important for today. See how it impacts your own goals, your own life, your own business. If you’d like to learn more about how the 90-Day Agile Accelerator program can benefit you and your business, check it out here.



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