Prioritizing What Is Important and Non-Urgent

“Generally speaking, having a good work/life balance means that your actions and priorities are aligned in a way that is taking care of what is really important to you.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

Several years ago, a family of four lived across from us, and the daughter one day came over for a visit. She was a talker, and within thirty minutes we knew everything about her then five-year-old life. Her main complaint at the time was carpooling. She described how her mother picked up one child, then another, and another, until there were just “too much children” in the car. I can still see her in my mind’s eye, shaking her blond hair in exasperation.

Ever since, my husband and I have used the phrase “too much children” to describe situations that are too full, too crowded, and too much out of our control, with little space to breathe.

This morning, as I looked down the long list of all I need and want to do, and all I should have done by now but haven’t, I had a “too much children” moment. And then I remembered the wise words of Stephen R. Covey, which I quoted here a year ago:

“I find in interviews that most people will acknowledge that one half of their time is spent doing things that are not important, but that are urgent. They’re proximate, they’re pressing, they’re popular, but they’re not important. Smile about it. Say no to them.  Just say no. What difference does it make? I don’t even pick up the phone at home during dinner or during a family activity. I won’t even take it.”

Covey recommends we periodically fill out a matrix similar to this one, to help us to prioritize our activities and choices:

Even when we spend most of our time doing things that are important but urgent, we don’t have time for what is in quadrant 2, work that often cannot be rushed or packed into already too full calendars: planning for the future, thinking about our career goals, nurturing relationships, practicing deep self care.

In an article about leading a balanced life, Covey explains:

“One of the main implications of being out of balance, however you define it, is that you neglect other areas of your life; family, health, etc. are often some of the first. When you become so addicted to only dealing with your urgent tasks you don’t think there is time for the non-urgent. You think that there will be time to deal with them later. But often, when you ask people what they feel is most important in their life, things they really want to accomplish, they are things that take time and long-term investment. By the time these things become urgent, it’s often too late to affect them.”

I know in my heart which of my many tasks is the one I should prioritize this morning, and once I press “Publish” for this post, that’s where I’m going without looking back, while the day is quiet and still and my mind is fresh.

What important but non-urgent work or activity do you need to prioritize today?

9 thoughts on “Prioritizing What Is Important and Non-Urgent

  1. Journal writing time! It’s my way of sorting through my thoughts and determining where I’m at, where I’m going, and where I want to be. Great post and food for thought!

    • Nina, yes, the derailment is all my own doing! The good news is that I really did devote Sunday morning to the “important but not urgent” task I needed to do, and it made a world of difference in how I felt later on. A habit to continue…

  2. This is a great article! I completely understand about the habit of prioritising ‘urgent’ things and putting off those ‘square 2’ tasks until it’s too late. As a teenager, I always put off writing the longer essays, preferring to get the short and easy assignments done first. But it is only by giving continual effort to those larger projects that we can progress with them.

    • Thank you for this perspective. You are I are of a kind! Only as an adult am I learning the kinds of work and study skills that I need so as to do what I want to do. This old dog really can learn some new tricks, thank goodness. 🙂

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