Are you living in a constant state of urgency?

Jun 19, 2017 | Coach's Questions, Leadership

Busyness has become an epidemic of our time. You may have even noticed, it’s actually been glamorized in certain circles as if busy equates to important.

With the sheer volume of notifications and distractions that are inevitable every day, it’s no wonder that so many people are stressed out.

But, I have to ask – why are we all so often driven by deadlines? Why do we tolerate a life of reacting?

Urgent and chaotic busyness is a trap.

Quite often, it’s a habit that we get ourselves into that helps us avoid addressing what we really want in life.

What if I told you that busyness may be a way of playing small?

Hear me out.

We only have so much time and if our purpose, values, and vision are clear – it also becomes very clear how we should be spending our time. Prioritising becomes a piece of cake.

But, when we aren’t clear on our purpose, values, and vision – what happens?

Demands on time aren’t carefully screened for their relevance to our purpose, values, and vision.

We then allow all kinds of distractions and other people’s priorities to lead the way. Our life is made up of a series of reactions to whatever crosses our path.

We get stuck in a state of urgency that has nothing to do with what’s truly important.

The key to creating a deliberate life on track with our big picture vision and moving from a state of urgency to a state of focus is all about how we spend our time.

Urgent versus Important

Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix provides a great model for looking at how we spend our time and how we can make improvements.

The idea is to spend as much time as possible on things that are important but not necessarily urgent. That last part might sound counterintuitive, but stay with me.

Made popular by Steven Covey, Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix asks that tasks be broken down and assigned to one of four categories based on whether they are important and/or urgent:

Eisenhower Decision Matrix
image credit:


1. Urgent and Important

These are tasks that align with your big goals and vision but have gotten to a place where they’re urgent.

These can be emergencies, looming deadlines, and could arrive by calls and emails. Sometimes these are driven by a boss or board or can occur when something important happens.

Often a failure in something, or a problem (PR problem, governance concern, poor audit, etc) will make an important task also become an urgent one.

2. Not Urgent but Important

These are tasks that are important to your long term success but are not being driven by a looming deadline. Life events in this box could be exercise, vacation and family time.

Work activities in this quadrant could be launching a new product line, improving staff morale, moving to a culture of collaboration, adapting to changing client needs, etc.

You can see how those items could be hugely important but might not have the firm deadline on them like the more urgent things.

Staying on top of these items in Quadrant 2 not only has the most profound effect on you or your organization, it also prevents these items from becoming urgent (Quadrant 1) and thus a crisis.

3. Urgent and Not Important

These are often other people’s priorities that arrive as interruptions and distractions. For example, when someone stops by your desk to ask you a question or an email you receive where the sender has a sense of urgency but it’s not connected to what’s important to you.

4. Not Urgent and Not Important

These tasks are the time wasters, trivia, and busy work. They’re not urgent and they don’t connect to any greater purpose. These are things like watching TV and scrolling through social media without purpose.

So How Does This Help?

First, if you earnestly look at each task throughout your day and assign them to one of these categories, it can be very eye-opening to see how much time we spend on things that aren’t actually important.

And, there’s an energetic component to it as well. When you find yourself spending a lot of time on things that are not important and not urgent – doesn’t it feel kind of draining?

As if, you know that there are better ways to spend your time but you’re somehow stuck scrolling through social media or watching TV.

Once you’ve started figuring out which items are in which quadrant, and where you spend your time, you now start dropping everything in Quadrant 4, delegating or dismissing Quadrant 3 while putting as much effort as possible in Quadrant 2.

If there are items in Quadrant 1, clean them up and get back to Quadrant 2.

The goal is to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant 2.

I’ll emphasize that again, the goal is quadrant 2, not quadrant 1.

Items in Quadrant 2 (important but not urgent) are the big picture, long term things that change lives and redirect companies.

Items in that quadrant can become urgent too, but not often enough to wait for that to happen before you make them a priority.

If we spend most of our time there, important things won’t need to become urgent and we can stay focused on the big goals filled with purpose and meaning.

Coach’s Questions:

Does your organization have a culture of busy = important? What will you do today to shift to important versus urgent?