I think many of us get caught in a to-do list of things that are urgent — fires that need to be put out, deals that can’t wait, meetings, and meetings, and meetings. It’s easy to find yourself in an endless circle of completing tasks that are date/time-sensitive and to go home at the end of the day feeling like you didn’t really accomplish anything that was truly important.
Which begs the question ... Is what’s urgent always what’s important? No. Because we make what’s comfortable, urgent — and what’s difficult, we tend to put off.
Go ahead and read that again.
According to a recent HBR article on the topic and a series of studies recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research, “people typically chose to complete tasks that had very short deadlines attached to them, even in situations in which tasks with less pressing deadlines were just as easy and promised a bigger reward.”
Why do we do this? Well, the article discusses how we can have a misconception that our most important and meaningful tasks are not often tied to deadlines. An example of an important or meaningful task might be improving your education or vital skills (like learning a new language or finishing your degree) — but, if you’re like most people, these types of tasks take a back seat to cleaning out your inbox or booking a flight.
So, how do we flip the switch to prioritize what’s important and not just urgent? (All while still getting those urgent tasks done?)
Here’s what I found when researching the topic:
#1. SCHEDULE THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT
I really like this piece of advice. I tend to schedule everything from my fitness classes (using the MindBody app) to all my business endevours — but, when I stopped to think about it, I wasn’t really scheduling things that are truly important.
One of my biggest goals this year (that I can share) is to set aside more time for me to deflate and actually think — to not distract myself with busy-ness so I have more time to think and be creative. I think it would be really helpful to block out some time each week to focus on this goal. I’m going to get back to you on how that goes.
According to the same HBR article, research shows that scheduling when and where you’ll do something makes dramatically more likely that you’ll get it done. So, let’s see.
#2. BREAK DOWN THE IMPORTANT TASK INTO BITE-SIZED PIECES
I call this “chunking it” … giving myself the opportunity to worry only about the chunk in front of me. If I told you to go start a podcast tomorrow, you’d probably run for the hills. But, if we broke down that important goal into bite-sized (and actionable) chunks that you can work towards each week, you’d be more likely to see success.
I really believe that you use your brain and your creativity the best when you can block out everything else. And, that’s where sometimes a list can get you overwhelmed. Chunking it and not worrying about what happened before or what will happen after — will keep you in the present with the task at hand.
#3. SPEND LESS TIME ON THE THINGS THAT ARE URGENT, NOT IMPORTANT
I think we can all get better at this one. There’s not much to say here — other than try to use technology to your advantage. Here are some of my recent posts with my favorite apps for increasing productivity, making life easier, etc.
- 10 Must-Haves in My Personal Tech Stack
- 9 Chrome Extensions I’m Loving
- 5 Time Management Hacks for Better Work/Life Balance
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU?
What kind of to-do list “tackler” are you? Do you get all the little things done first? Tackle the most time-sensitive? Stare at the list all day because you just can’t get started? I’d love to hear some of your best tips for prioritizing important vs. urgent tasks. Let’s continue this over on my LinkedIn page.