The blog

Previous article

Next article

01 Dec

What to do when everything is important and urgent?

Datum: 2022-12-01 14:00
A window of an old house and the house's brown wooden panel wall.

The Urgen­t/Im­por­tant-matrix is prob­a­bly the struc­tur­al tool that most peo­ple are famil­iar with. Chances are that you have come across it at some point. It is basi­cal­ly a matrix with four fields (much like a win­dow with four mul­lions) where the hor­i­zon­tal axis address­es the urgency of the task and the ver­ti­cal axis if the task is impor­tant or not.

A task can be con­sid­ered impor­tant if it con­tributes to attaint­ing the goals you are specif­i­cal­ly respon­si­ble for in your com­pa­ny. If not, it isn’t actu­al­ly important.

The idea is that you deter­mine how pri­or­i­tized a task should be by con­sid­er­ing both its urgency and rel­a­tive impor­tance. Tasks which are both impor­tant and urgent are giv­en the high­est pri­or­i­ty, and are the ones you do first.

Every­thing immediately?

But, if I am deal­ing with too many tasks simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, which are all per­ceived as impor­tant and urgent — which one should I then do first? Sud­den­ly the mod­el is inad­e­quate. Every­thing gets crammed into the same field of being most urgent and most important.

As we are all aware of, we can only do one thing at a time if we want to main­tain a high qual­i­ty in what we are doing and pro­duc­ing. Just as there are sup­pos­ed­ly lev­els in hell, we there­fore need to find nuances in how we define impor­tance and urgency in order to make sense of the now crammed field of tasks with the high­est priority.

Not of equal impor­tance, after all

So what deter­mines the nuances we now need in order to make a judge­ment-call? As I see it, here are a few exam­ples of some of the fac­tors that could influ­ence your decision:

  • To what extent the task impacts the attain­ment of your goals. If we want to reach a cer­tain goal or result as soon as pos­si­ble, we are doing the right thing when we do the tasks that brings us clos­er to ful­fill­ing our goal. That way we will cov­er the most ground by exert­ing as lit­tle effort and time as possible.
  • The goal that mat­ters most. If I am pri­mar­i­ly respon­si­ble for attain­ing four goals at work, they might after all not actu­al­ly all of equal impor­tance. One goal will always be more impor­tant than the rest. And if all the tasks are equal­ly urgent, all are in that field of most pri­or­i­tized tasks, we only can do one thing at a time, and we want what we do to have the great­est effect with the least amount of input and effort, we will be right to pri­or­i­tize the task that con­tributes to tak­ing us one step clos­er to reach­ing the most impor­tant goal.
  • How long the task takes to com­plete. If the tasks you are con­sid­er­ing doing all influ­ence the attain­ment of goals which you deem to be of equal impor­tance to the same extent, we might be right to do the task that requires the least amount of time first, since that is the fastest way to take a step clos­er to the fin­ish line.

What’s the hurry?

Does it real­ly mat­ter then which one of the urgent and impor­tant tasks we choose to do first? Every­thing needs to get done any­way, and is it real­ly that impor­tant that we reach our goals quick­ly? Well, that is one way to look at it. But, when we have five col­leagues (or boss­es) in our office and they all need our help imme­di­ate­ly with some­thing impor­tant, we might still be faced with the dilem­ma of which one to help out first.

If we were to say Sure, I’ll do it right away” to all five, we would be scat­ter­ing our ener­gy and focus. We might not deliv­er with the same high qual­i­ty as we usu­al­ly do, since we would find it dif­fi­cult to focus on one task at a time, hav­ing the oth­er four tasks with­in sight which are divert­ing our atten­tion and break­ing our concentration.

Say­ing yes” with­out regrets

In order to feel bal­anced while work­ing, main­tain the high qual­i­ty we tend to ask of our­selves, and have enough ener­gy to pull all the way through and fin­ish all our tasks, we need to be able to say Sure, I’ll do it right away” as well as Yes absolute­ly, as soon as I fin­ish the oth­er task(s)” with­out feel­ing bad about it. If you are bas­ing your yes” on good inten­tions alone, gut-feel­ing or on feel­ing oblig­at­ed to help a cer­tain col­league first due to a sense of indebt­ed­ness, you risk putting your­self in a tough spot when it comes to being able to fin­ish it all — espe­cial­ly if you are an ambi­tious person.

This is exact­ly why it might ben­e­fit you to con­scious­ly cre­ate nuances for the field of most urgent and most impor­tant tasks, so that you can make a sound and sober pri­or­i­ti­za­tion based on the goals you are respon­si­ble for reach­ing and with a clear con­science — even if the per­son whose task just end­ed up at the bot­tom of that list hap­pens to be your boss.

Do this

  1. In order to pri­or­i­tize in this sys­tem­at­ic man­ner when every­thing” seems impor­tant and urgent, there are a few things you can do to make it easier:
    • If you are uncer­tain of what goals you should be look­ing to reach pri­mar­i­ly in your work, you might want to dis­cuss the mat­ter with your boss.
    • If it is clear to you what goals you are respon­si­ble for, rank them on your own or togeth­er with your boss in terms of their impor­tance. And no, two goals can­not share a place; some­thing has to come first — and if not always, then at least in a few giv­en situations.
    • If you fre­quent­ly get asked to help out with com­plet­ing a num­ber of recur­ring tasks, take a few moments when you are not as busy to sit down and give them all a val­ue between 1 and 3 that sig­ni­fies to what extent the tasks con­tribute to doing what you con­sid­er impor­tant in your work. You might not be able to deter­mine exact­ly what impact they have, but a qual­i­fied guess is bet­ter than none.
    • When you are asked to do urgent and impor­tant tasks, make an esti­ma­tion of how much time the task will require. If you are giv­en sev­er­al tasks dur­ing a short peri­od of time, write the esti­mat­ed time required next to each task (on your list or per­haps on a sep­a­rate note). If worst comes to worst and you have to choose what task to do right now, and they all appear equal­ly urgent and impor­tant, com­plete the short­est task first.
  2. If you want to make it easy for your­self to use what you have con­clud­ed while reflect­ing once things get heat­ed, make note of the tasks you are usu­al­ly giv­en to com­plete and the val­ue you gave them in terms of impor­tance with regards to your own goals, as well as your goals in order of impor­tance, in a place where you will be like­ly to catch a glance of them just as some­one is ask­ing for your assistance.

Pri­or­i­tiz­ing in the midst of all the seem­ing­ly urgent

If you cre­ate tools and pre­req­ui­sites that will equip you to instant­ly see the nuances in all the seem­ing­ly impor­tant and urgent tasks, you will with greater ease and con­fi­dence sin­gle out the one out of sev­er­al tasks of seem­ing­ly equal sig­nif­i­cance that you should right­ful­ly do first. You will be less sus­cep­ti­ble to oth­er people’s var­i­ous getting-their-will”-methods, such as the get­ting-angry-strat­e­gy, the flat­tery-trick, or the I‑am-so-helpless”-act.

What is your method?

How do you rid your­self of doubt and make accu­rate pri­or­i­ties even when every­thing you are look­ing at appears equal­ly impor­tant and urgent? What is the thing you hold all tasks up against and that helps you deter­mine what to do first? Tell me!

(On anoth­er, sim­i­lar note: do you pri­or­i­tize whole­heart­ed­ly?)

There is more where this came from

A tanned woman dressed in an off-white shirt over a slightly lighter t-shirt looking at her iPhone in her left hand.

If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

Yes, I definitely want more tips!