The Important vs. The Urgent

A colleague of mine many years ago introduced me to the well-known saying, “don’t let the urgent get in the way of the important.” I think about it all the time. Like a lot of these well-used quotes its origins are a little murky, but it is regularly attributed to former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During a speech at a university campus in Illinois in 1954 Eisenhower is reported to have said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

So how does this relate to running a small business? Every day we come to work, and our first inclination is always to address the urgent tasks requiring our immediate attention: I must cut a cheque to this vendor for that bill, I need to call this person back, I need to get this online order in the post, I must respond to this avalanche of unread emails clogging my inbox, I need to make this advertising deadline, etc. These urgent tasks never stop coming down the pipeline at us in small businesses. 

But then there are the important things, the big picture ideas, the “rainy day” tasks scribbled down in a notebook that we never seem to find the time to address: I need to setup my shop online with an e-commerce platform, I want to look at the feasibility of expanding into this product line, I need to create that training manual, I would like to finally rebrand my business, I want to be more strategic with my team’s professional development, etc. These are the important tasks that always seem to get sidelined because they are not urgent and have no deadline. They are also the exact same important tasks that are going to take your business to the next level and ensure your future success. 

As business managers or owners, we must find a way to carve out time for the important over the urgent – now more than ever. Believe me as someone whose time is constantly pulled in a thousand different directions by the urgent needs of the day, finding time for the important is a concept much easier said than done. The way that works for me is deliberately creating time in my calendar for the important. I am not worried about the urgent with my time management – I know I will get to those as they typically have deadlines. But having a standing time carved out each week in my calendar for those important tasks that I never otherwise find the time for has worked for me. Ask yourself – what are the most important things that are actually going to grow my business in 2021? Identify those and then schedule regular quality time in your calendar to address them while drowning out some of the noise. Your bottom line will thank you for it.

Photo by Vince Mo