16 Sep 2017 18:07 IST

Take the first step towards success

Develop the habit of defining ‘urgent versus important’ accurately

When there is a task at hand, I always make it a point to specify whether the matter is urgent or important — or both or neither. This I do during any interaction, especially with a service provider, as it has helped me get better responses and services — at least, I prefer to think so!

I picked the habit up over the years simply because I observed how most people do not know how to prioritise their tasks. Our conditioning makes us respond to urgency rather than importance. This means that an individual is constantly in a state of swinging between fire fighting and handling urgent tasks, and recuperating from the stress through recreation or entertainment.

But while we keep moving from these two extremes, important tasks keep piling up and most, if not many, start to become urgent. A simple example is a project work that is given as part of your management programme. Regardless of when the project was announced, the work on the presentation is usually done the night before the due date. It is not because there was no time prior to that — it was because the tasks were not prioritised correctly.

Typically, there are four types of tasks:

1) Urgent and important: This should be prioritised first and completed. Like the example mentioned above, in which the project is due the next day at 7 am.

2) Urgent but not important: These may be second priority. The reason I say ‘may be’ is because in many cases, such tasks are not really urgent. The pressure is often self induced or created by others around you. If it is truly an urgent task, then it should be the second priority.

3) Important but not urgent: This is actually as important as the second one in the list of things to do. The unfortunate reality is that these tasks often get postponed till it moves into the ‘urgent to-do’ slot. If adequate time is allotted to complete such important tasks, the extent of urgent things to be done will come down. That, by itself, will reduce stress.

4) Neither important nor urgent: These tasks should be kept till after all other tasks are completed. In many cases, these are a complete waste of time.

I specify the urgency and importance of any task because most people fail to categorise this properly. When I specify this aspect, it also opens up the opportunity of defining time frames and deadlines.

Being able to define urgent versus important is the first step to prioritising properly. Prioritising is the first step to being efficient and effective, which is the route to success. Therefore, the first step you can take towards being successful is to develop the habit of defining ‘urgent versus important’ accurately.

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