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Urgent vs Important

Posted May 5, 2014 into Writing by John Birmingham

Working for myself, with no boss to brute me around, I have an interest in efficiency literature. Anything to keep me at the keyboard and away from the Xbox. As demonstrated by the success of, many people are the same, not all of them self-employed.

The Pomodoro Technique was probably the most effective time management tool I picked up trawling that site. I'm still using it years later. And on those days when I don't it? My productivity falls off a cliff.

Found me another one, recently that I thought I'd share. The Eisenhower Grid. You got to have a good, Robert Ludlummy novel name for your time management technique if I'm gonna pay attention.

The grid, above, was developed out of a piece of advice by President Dwight Eisenhower. "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important."

It's easy to mistake urgency for significance, but they're not the same thing. Urgency is subjective. To people of a certain age, a phone ringing evokes a sense of urgency. I'd better get that. Even though these days it's as likely to be a cold caller, charity mugger or phone scammer as friend or family.

Email feels urgent. Or maybe compelling is a better word. Checking your twitter feed. Facebook. The Burger (at least for me). They can feel as though they come freighted with a real sense of needing to be done.

But no. They don't. Not immediately. (Not at all, most days).

Eisenhower's grid is an attempt to sort your daily disruptions, interruptions, commitments and so on into a reasonable work flow.

If something is both urgent and important, like the deadline I had this morning, I do it NOW.

If it's neither, I piss it off.

If it's important but not urgent (the piece about men's health I've promised to write for Michelle Bridges website), it gets scheduled for later.

And, according to the grid, if it's unimportant, but compelling, or urgent, it should be delegated. Of course, I don't have anyone to delegate to. So I just tend to push those distracting items (email, social media, etc) off to downtime. I've written this blog entry, for instance, during pomodoro breaks over a couple of days.

The grid's not a perfect fit for my work day. But a slimmed down version of it is.

These days, while I'm plotting out the day, I ask myself wether the commitment I have planned (to a blog entry, a column, a chapter edit, some new writing) is urgent or important.

If both, it gets assigned pomodori time immediately. If neither, it just doesn't get done. Not during work hours anyway.

14 Responses to ‘Urgent vs Important’

Dave W reckons...

Posted May 5, 2014

For example, I'm reading this piece and responding because it is far more urgent and important than the stuff I get paid to do.

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w from brisbane swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 5, 2014

Then, within each category, identify the tasks you least want to do, and do them first.

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insomniac has opinions thus...

Posted May 5, 2014

Everything someone wants me to do is urgent and important, otherwise I'm just doing number 5

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BigWillieStyle has opinions thus...

Posted May 5, 2014

I've spent pretty much the entire day scanning teh interwebz for photos or footage of Jimmy Packer and David Gyngell fighting like a couple of high school scrags. Dunno if it's a 1, 2, 3 or 4 task, all I know is I simply have to see it. And soon.

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Dino not to be confused with puts forth...

Posted May 5, 2014

Since the NYTimes wants a war in Ukraine I figure this is a good example of their Journalistic Integrity and concern for the US citizen-

2 minute video-

Now they're worried about Ukranians!

God help the Ukranians if the New York Times has a fkn opinion about them!

Don't ya love the New York Times?

Dino not to be confused with is gonna tell you...

Posted May 5, 2014

They don't have the credentials of a NYT reporter/opinion column but between them these authors have some History-

Interesting site with a story about the NYT's no less...

Dino not to be confused with has opinions thus...

Posted May 6, 2014

How am I supposed to get all my Prada shit now?

I don't carry cash!

Sure I don't have any but that's not the point!

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Therbs mumbles...

Posted May 5, 2014

An efficiency thing I learned was Immediate, Today, Later. Three folders, only the Immediate one on desk with all its reference material. Today in top drawer, Later in bottom drawer, with all items reffed in diary for relevant dates and roughed out time blocks. Once Immediate is done, next task from Today folder becomes Immediate. Having them set out means I know which folder to grab if I get a call about one of the tasks. Pommodori would be handy for managing the blocks of time for each task.

A number of effiency systems seem to operate like that - setting prioities and time for tasks and dealing with time sinks, ensuring you're working on one immediate thing at a time.

Mind you this can all go out the window if the Hangover Gorillas pay a visit.

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tqft ducks in to say...

Posted May 5, 2014

I plan a lot. I don't get out of bed without a plan and have backup plans for my backup plans down a few levels.

Nothing should become urgent if you an help it. Unfortunately real life doesn't work that way. Having worked where stuff blows up and you get the call to say that it has I have found plans and preparation pretty useful.

But day to day - I set goals for myself and try and accomplish those tasks. But right now I have nothing to stress about hitting any deadline.

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Bondiboy66 would have you know...

Posted May 5, 2014

I am actually not that organised. I have a 'to do' stack, an ''in progress'' pile and the ''done'' pile is not on my desk because...well...its done! Jobs arranged with ones to be done first in front, progressing to less urgent at the back. In other jobs I have just had an amorphous blob of tasks to be done, in progress etc...although in a prior line of work in a certain uniformed emergency service any planning of a work shift got tossed out if something massively urgent happened, causing me to drop everything because that (literal) emergency had to be dealt with immediately. If not sooner. same with working in the ADF - any plan was wonderful right up until the first shot was fired.

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Darth Greybeard mumbles...

Posted May 8, 2014

I - that is my parents were - of that generation. Phone calls were important and urgent and every ring sparked a general rush for the damn thing. We didn't have a phone until I was in year eight and the first one, for a glorious brief period before it carked, was one of those upright things with a separate earpiece on a hook at the side.

But in the days of two posts a day and one on Saturday morning, everything else was much more leisurely, even in business and the public service. I suspect that one difficulty elderlier people than I have with modern tech is that most people have an expectation that their response will be immediate, instant and right now. One's in-tray in the old Titles Office could sit undisturbed and gathering cobwebs for a day or two. Don't ever let anyone tell you technology has made life easier. Just a whole lot more fun.

w from brisbane mumbles...

Posted May 8, 2014

"Don't ever let anyone tell you technology has made life easier."

Not easier! You are right there, Greybeard!
You know what I hate? Well, I'l tell you.
When, for some insane reason, you want to register on some site and they ask you to type in the confirmation code,
The Confirmation Code!!
But they insist on displaying the confirmation code in some weird LSD trip fantasia script that is almost impossible to decipher.

Is that a 6 or a b? Is that a D or a semi-reclining O.

You get closer and stare.
Ooooo the flowers are pretty. I've forgotten how much I like purple.

And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said;
Feed your head

Sorry, I lost it there for a moment.

Yep, what I mean is, those comfirmation codes, I find them tough.

Dino not to be confused with swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 8, 2014


I have to the conclusion I am a fkn robot.

Whenever they ask to type in the letters to prove you are not a robot I get it wrong.

The inescapable conclusion is...

Dino not to be confused with ducks in to say...

Posted May 8, 2014

Should read

I have come to the conclusion!


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