Prioritizing: Urgent vs. Important

Allow me to start with a brief story. Many Christmases ago, my then four-year-old son shared his letter to Santa with me -20 toys listed, give or take. I explained that Santa needed to bring presents to millions of kids around the world, and his limit was two per kiddo. For that reason, he needed to prioritize his list and put his three or four preferred toys at the top for Santa to know which ones he really wanted. Santa would bring him two out of those three or four at the top of the letter.

Reluctantly, he went back to his room, reappearing a few minutes later. "Done!" he declared excitedly and showed me the letter. The same 20 toys had a "1" to their left. Puzzled, I asked, why didn't you put them in order of preference as we discussed? "Because they are ALL important to me, mom, I can't choose just four!" he replied.

Prioritizing is essential for good planning.

That's what happens to us when we have to decide which tasks are the most critical. Prioritizing involves organizing things in order of importance or urgency. The matter is that importance and urgency are subjective terms. An activity may be urgent and important (like a 9-1-1 call, for instance) or urgent yet not really important, like a push notification on your smartphone -you feel compelled to read it immediately even though it may be nothing.

Likewise, something important may not be urgent, for instance, buying now those Christmas cards you'll need to mail next month. Definitely a high-ranking task in your to-do list, but it probably would make no difference if you bought them tomorrow or the next day since you still have plenty of time.

To prioritize efficiently, we need to set specific parameters: What's the deadline? What other tasks depend on me delivering this one today? Can someone else take care of this particular assignment while I focus on another, more urgent, deliverable? Once we have established our parameters, the priorities will become more evident.

I like to start my days with at least one priority in three main areas: work, relationships, and myself. I've noticed that when I do this and complete these priorities, I feel motivated and inspired to keep working on other tasks.

My tip for you today is that during your morning reflection, or whenever you plan your day, make sure to include time for a few mini-breaks (self-care) and time to connect with friends, even if it's a quick text or two. Advancing your personal projects (work) will usually be the most obvious because of external demands and the accountability factor.

Regardless of how well-planned your day looks, there will invariably be outside forces that will distract you. Beware of last-minute "urgent" requests that are not essential to your daily goals, interruptions, unsolicited small talk, and other diversions like social media. These will derail you in spite of your good intentions. Be creative and figure out ways to fend off those interferences and focus first on what's urgent AND important.

Prioritization is the basis for a well-planned day. Be realistic and set no more than three to five priorities on your list. More than that and you may end up overwhelmed. Learning to manage your priorities is a big step toward a well-planned day!

What has been your experience with prioritization? Does it come easy to you? What's your method? Please share your thoughts below so we can all learn! Did you like what you read? Share this post with your friends!

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