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Acting on the Important, Not the Urgent – Path to Extraordinary Productivity

Some of the most poignant words for a #goalsgeek comes from one of my favourite productivity books, The 5 Choices published by the Franklin Covey Co.  (If you haven’t viewed my blog post on the 5 Choices for Extraordinary Productivity, you can view it here).


Easier said than done when your emails are pouring in from a hundred different directions, your colleagues are knocking on your door with their priorities and dramas, and your phone is ringing on an already busy Monday morning and everyone is back in their offices.  The sales environment is especially distracting, when many are looking to you to answer to sales goals and progress on projects


In order to live a life according to this life-changing principle, a few things need to be defined about your day to day and your goals.

  1. What is important?
  2. What is urgent?
  3. How do I create this balance?

Defining what is important

For everyone, defining what is important to each of us will be different.  It can go as far back as what your North Star goal is for the year, and ensuring you build time into your day, every day, to further that mission.  For others, it can be some quarterly goals that feed into the North Star goal, and ensuring you’re on track to meet those goals.  Acting on the important means spending focused time, each day or each week, furthering a higher mission.   Franklin Covey’s work defines Q2 quadrant activities (extraordinary productivity, strategic and important work) as tasks that fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Proactive work
  2. High-impact goals
  3. Creative thinking
  4. Planning
  5. Prevention
  6. Relationship building
  7. Learning and renewal

If the current task at hand does not fall into one of the above categories, chances are its being defined as important to someone else, but likely not important in the grand scheme of things and priorities.

Defining what is urgent

Urgent stuff is usually defined by someone else, including but not limited to:

  • interruptions at the office
  • phone calls
  • emails
  • water cooler gossip

If you can define what is urgent (but not important), then you can start labelling it and recognize what is derailing you from getting your best and important work done.  We still need to tend to urgent matters, but making conscious decisions to when and how these tasks are addressed can help you increase your productivity, and spend more time on strategic work.

How to create balance

Unfortunately, the urgent stuff still needs tending to, and it will take time to train your brain to be ok to let the urgent stuff sit while you tend to the important.

  1. Make a list the night before of tasks and projects that are important that you are going to address the next day. Schedule a block of time to tend to these important tasks, regardless of what may come in as urgent between now and then.
  2. Determine your biological prime time – this is when you are at your optimal best for creativity and thinking. This is the time you should Act On The Important, Not The Urgent.  Save your lower times for the urgent tasks – the energy in the tasks will get you through those.  To learn more about biological prime time, I highly recommend Chris Bailey’s work The Productivity Project.
  3. Do not check your emails as soon as you wake. You have now strategically set aside time in your day to tend to the emails, so don’t be tempted to derail your plan.
  4. Closed door policy – its OK to close your door at the office and tend to your important tasks. Communicate with your team and your boss that this time is critical for you to do your best work and ask that they respect your boundaries.
  5. Phone on silent, go to voicemail – and perhaps turn off the notifications for email at the same time. Get through your important work with limited distractions.
  6. Batch your emails – try to avoid the temptation to check emails every 5 minutes, and address emails all at once during a scheduled time (better yet, schedule that time outside of your biological prime time). Chances are, you’ve already addressed the important projects in step #1, and the emails left that are not related to those projects can wait a few hours.

The above ideas can take time, and building new habits is not easy.  I did wrote a blog post about habit-building that you can check out here.

By employing the above strategies day to day, you will see your goals being achieved quicker, and your sanity returning as you “take back” your time and stop giving it away to everyone else.  Here’s to healthier choices and to a fulfilling and productive week!


RELATED – The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity

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