Urgent or Important?

Your phone is ringing, is that urgent or important? It’s easy to let the day slip away doing things that seem urgent, but have little importance as it relates to the goals we wanted to accomplish that day. Learn how to prioritize and focus on the important.


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“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I’m pretty sure that Doyle wasn’t writing Sherlock Holmes while sitting in a machine shop. Everything that happens in your shop during the day seems urgent, but it is not necessarily important. And the difference between the two will decide how many hours a week you are working and how profitable your time is.

One way to distinguish important from urgent has to do with the end goal. Issues that are urgent do demand your attention, and need to be dealt with swiftly, but they are often the demands or goals of others and are not mission critical to your business. Important activities are those that, once completed, help you achieve the goals you have set that day, that month or with a certain customer.

Anything that has to do with better serving your customers is important. Your customers are the reason you are in business, and their questions, complaints and concerns are the most important. However, even your customers need to be segmented.

There will always be a percentage of your customers that are “squeaky wheels” and demand most of your time. You need to ask yourself if they are truly profitable. And you cannot base it just on the amount of revenue they bring to your organization. Profit also is the amount of time you have to spend worrying about them or working for them.

Sometimes it is helpful to think like a lawyer. How much is your time worth per hour and how many hours are you putting toward your most successful customers? And if you have customers that are draining you, would it be a better idea to spend that time looking for new customers to replace them?

No matter how efficient you are with your work, you can’t get everything done at once. As simple as it sounds, the first step is to make a list of all the tasks and activities you want to, or should complete that day. This is where the tips and tricks of prioritizing are the most critical.

By prioritizing, you concentrate on what has to be done, setting aside the rest for later. What I like to do when I am prioritizing a list is segment everything into three categories. The first is the Hot group, which is a list of the “must do” that both have to be completed by a certain time, and are critical to my business. The second list is the Warm group and that is the “should do” list, and the big difference with this one is that these are still important to the business, but have longer deadlines. The final Cool group includes the “like to do” activities, which are not time sensitive and can be pushed back, if necessary.

Now you may look at your list and think everything falls under the hot category. If that is the case I would urge you to do two things. First, have someone else in your organization take a look at your list and they might have some insight to help you re-prioritize or change the deadlines on current projects. Secondly, the top of the list needs to be all about customers, and anything that is helping to run the business. If a company is threatening to shut off your utilities, that goes to the top of the list.

Now there are certainly things that trump all of this. Any type of family issue or employee issue immediately goes to the top of the list. And yes, the plan is made to be broken. You may have 10 things on your to do list when you walk in the door and that list is expanded to 20 by lunchtime. The re-prioritization of your time and energies based on changes in your business may be one of the most critical pieces to stay successful, and sane.

Being busy is a good problem to have, but you do need to make sure you are spending some time learning about things outside of your daily business. If you keep your blinders on and only focus on today, you will have a hard time staying current for clients, and understanding the larger business trends in play, which help decide if a customer chooses to work with you or not.