Philosophy Friday: The Important Versus The Urgent
It’s not unreasonable to say that Dwight Eisenhower is the man who saved Western Europe. In 1944 it fell to Eisenhower as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe to ensure that the invasion of France, D-Day, would be a success. On June 6th, nearly 200,000 allied troops assaulted German positions in France and ripped open a Western front. World War 2 in Europe was over within a year.
Eisenhower was known for making thoughtful and wise decisions even before WW2. He was aware of the crucial difference between the Important and the Urgent. Urgent matters are often unimportant, while important tasks are not urgent.
“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
– Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (WW2), 34th US President
Enter the Eisenhower Matrix, a tool of what to do in each of four important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent combinations:
The Eisenhower Matrix is a prioritisation framework for helping you make better decisions regarding tasks.
Let’s take a look at each of the quadrants:
Important and Urgent
A no-brainer. Do this first and ignore everything else. For example, ensuring the highest chance of success for the D-Day landings and swiftly freeing Western Europe from fascism was both urgent and important. In our own lives, being present for the birth of our child might be considered important and urgent.
Not Important and Not Urgent
Another easy one. Dump these timewasters whenever you can—after all, they are neither urgent nor important. For example, forgetting to brush our teeth one morning and similar life trivia fall into this category.
Now it gets trickier.
Important, but Not Urgent
Most important matters have no urgency attached to them. That is unfortunate. Planning out how to get that promotion at work, asking someone we like out on a date, or starting that start-up—these may be very important to us. Yet, there is no deadline, and it’s easy to keep delaying.
So what do we do instead? We focus on things in our final category:
Not Important, yet Urgent
Items in this quadrant are very seductive. They have the power of urgency attached to them. But it’s a trap—it’s urgency without meaning, without importance. The problem is that urgency is palpable and feels real—often someone else is generating that urgency within us; say, our manager requesting those TPS reports.
On the other hand, importance is not so tangible. Yet, there is a decent way to determine whether something urgent is also important. Ask yourself this question:
“Will this still matter to me in 3 months?”
If the answer is No, then it’s not important – merely urgent. If the answer is Yes, then this is something that will move you in the right direction.
When we mistake the merely urgent for being important, we make a grave error. Hitting important targets on the head will propel you towards your life goals. Doing the urgent but unimportant won’t. It’ll just make you look busy and productive, but it’s fake productivity. After all, you’re working on unimportant things without significant payoff.