Why You Should Prioritise Important Tasks Over Urgent Tasks for Increased Productivity and Happiness

Originally published on www.lmt-lss.com.

Your assignment’s due tomorrow, and you’re scampering to complete it tonight. You also have to return that call from a close friend who rang you last week. You then realize there’s nothing to eat in the fridge. Not long after, you find out your mom’s unwell and you have to take her to the hospital.

These are urgent tasks — activities that pop up in the spur of the moment. We attend to them immediately, because they carry immediate consequences. If you didn’t have food to eat, for instance, you would have to stay hungry through the night, which would affect your sleep and productivity the next morning. So you immediately rush to buy some food.

On the other hand are important tasks — activities that don’t demand your time and attention right away and carry lasting consequences. These tasks include spending more time with the family, exercising regularly, building a career, and pursuing hobbies. These tasks don’t have immediate consequences. So we postpone them till they become immediate tasks themselves.

We fail to realize early that the consequences of not doing the important tasks are lasting and dangerous. Imagine never exercising when you had to and then being diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. Or not spending enough time with your family and then having to deal with a divorce.

These are terrible consequences that can take you down a rabbit hole. The problem is, we keep spending all our time and energy on urgent tasks that keep springing up, instead of on the important tasks. We’d be much more happy and productive if we accomplished our important tasks.

The key is to clearly distinguish between the two. As a guideline, an important task is one that takes you further along towards achieving your goal, while an urgent task is one that demands your immediate time and attention.

An effective way to prioritize your tasks is to first list down all of them and then categorize them in this manner:

  1. Important and urgent
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Not important but urgent
  4. Not important and not urgent

This decision matrix, as it’s popularly called, was introduced by former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s an excellent way to map out all your tasks so that you never miss out on what your important tasks are. That’ll ultimately help you be more productive and happy.

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