Important and Urgent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my work. One of the advantages of journaling is that it gives you a way to check in with yourself and find out what’s on your mind. Sometimes that feedback isn’t all positive. A few months ago, I went back and read several journal entries. What surprised me most was the sense of urgency that seemed to permeate nearly all of my recent journal entries.

Somehow, I’d drifted into a mindset where every day felt like a race for my life, and my journal entries reflected that. The Eisenhower Matrix explains that we can put most things in a two-axis grid.

Eisenhow Matarix.jpg

If you ever go down the rabbit hole of productivity literature, this is one of the first things you’ll stumble across. The critical point here is that the Important/Unimportant axis is entirely separate from the Urgent/Not Urgent axis. Indeed, one of the big lessons of the Eisenhower Matrix is that doing important work that is not urgent is one of the best places you can spend your time.

Eisenhow Line.jpg

I knew and understood this, but looking back at journal entries, it became clear that I’d turned the Eisenhower Matrix into the Eisenhower line in my head.

I got in the habit of thinking of all critical work as urgent and all unimportant work as not urgent. This mindset led to all sorts of bad habits on my part:

  1. I was looking at all my important work as urgent. That’s silly. Most of my important work is not urgent at all. Nevertheless, I’d been adding a level of anxiety for no good reason.

  2. With the increased anxiety, I felt more stress than I should. That made me think I should back off so much “urgent” work. Think about that for a moment. I told myself to do less critical work because of this urgency/important trap I’d laid for myself. I was tying myself in knots over that because I’d forgot to separate urgency from importance.

  3. I had some small personal items fall through the cracks. They were not essential tasks, but they had some urgency. My linkage of priority with urgency worked in the opposite direction, too, at my own peril.

The truth is that there is no relationship between importance and urgency. Those are two attributes entirely separate from one another. So I’ve taken steps to disabuse myself. Specifically, I’ve added to my journal prompts the question, “Where have I created false urgency?” Forcing myself to answer that question daily has helped, and things are more in balance again. I’ve turned the line back into a matrix.

So often, we get hung up on little things like this that wreak all sorts of havoc. The difficulty isn’t usually course-correcting once you find the problem; the difficulty is noticing and identifying the problem in the first place.