First Priority: Urgent and Important

This has been said many times, by me and by others. But it’s so central to productivity and success that I’m going to say it again:

Of all the things pulling at your time and attention, focus first and foremost on what’s urgent and important.

Accomplishing more of what you care about is just that simple.

Whether you recognize it or not, here’s how every opportunity and demand on your time breaks down:

Urgent and Important

There are many opportunities and demands on your time and attention that call for immediate and effective action. Sometimes they are obvious: Your family is threatened. Your house is on fire. Your future is in jeopardy. Sometimes they are more subtle or even hidden from sight.

If you want to be more productive and successful, consistently keep a sharp lookout for what’s urgent and important, and give these your fullest attention before you do anything else.

If you’re facing more than one, prioritize.

Important But Not Urgent

These are opportunities and demands on your time you can avoid, if you wish. Sometimes delay is perfectly fine: there’ little benefit to completing your IRS tax forms, for example, before they’re due. But other times, delay definitely hurts you: the benefits of compound interest, for example, grow much larger when you start saving or investing sooner rather than later.

It’s easy and often comfortable to delay work on the important but not urgent demands and opportunities you face. But that’s not smart.

Urgent But Not Important

These opportunities and demands on your time generally scream for your attention. But after you’ve attended to them, you’re not much better off than before.

Because these are not important, by definition, it’s fruitful to assign them a lower priority than truly important items, and to train yourself to limit the total amount of time you spend on these opportunities and demands.

After all, if you delay work on something that’s not important, there’s little or no price to pay.

Neither Urgent nor Important

Do I have to say anything about these items? They may attract your attention or annoy you with their persistent presence, but these opportunities and demands are a big time-suck that takes you away from the more fruitful activities available in your work and your life.

I’m sorry to have brought all this up, as I’m sure you’ve heard it elsewhere, probably many times, possibly even from me. But to the extent this reminder helps you stay on this track, it has been an urgent and important use of your time.

Next time: we’ll focus on something completely different.

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