Gregory Trubetskoy

Notes to self.

On Prioritization - Important vs Urgent

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Every item on a TODO list can be classified as urgent, important or neither. We should act on important items first, urgent second and ignore the rest.

Sometimes an item lands on our TODO list described as extremely urgent without any explanation of importance. In this case the important item (and thus to be done first) becomes determining the importance of the extremely urgent item in question, even if it means delaying it.

The reason I so strongly believe that understanding the importance of every thing we do is essential is quite simple: understanding the importance implies understanding of the ultimate objective. And inversely, not understanding the importance implies not understanding the objective.

And if after some discussion and thinking one still cannot assess the importance of a task, and nobody can explain it, then it is simply not important, however urgent it may seem.

There are exceptions, however. Sometimes importance can be difficult to verbalize. We should always be attuned to that. In my personal experience reiterated urgency in response to “why it is important” is a bad sign, whereas an emotional reaction of the “you just don’t get it, how can I explain this to you?” is a very good sign.

And sometimes, when you trust that the person requesting something of you truly believes it is both important and urgent but is unable to verbalize the importance sufficiently well, you may have to take their word for it and just do it, without fully understanding the importance.

It is also important to remember to always take the time to explain importance of things we request of others. We naturally enjoy working on important things and resent “urgent” and unimportant tasks.