This was really an epiphany for me: that URGENT doesn’t necessarily mean IMPORTANT. In “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” Stephen Covey explains:
The two factors that define an activity are URGENT and IMPORTANT. URGENT means it requires immediate attention. It’s “Now!” Urgent things act on us. A ringing phone is urgent. Most people can’t stand the thought of just allowing the phone to ring.
You could spend hours preparing materials, you could get all dressed up and travel to a person’s office to discuss a particular issue, but if the phone were to ring while you were there, it would generally take precedence over your personal visit.
If you were to phone someone, there aren’t many people who would say, “I’ll get to you in 15 minutes; just hold.” But those same people would probably let you wait in an office for at least that long while they completed a telephone conversation with someone else.
Urgent matters are usually visible. They press on us; they insist on action. They’re often popular with others. They’re usually right in front of us. And often they are pleasant, easy, fun to do. But so often they are unimportant!
IMPORTANCE, on the other hand, has to do with results. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals.
We REACT to urgent matters. Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity. We must ACT to seize opportunity, to make things happen. If we don’t practice Habit 2 (Begin with the End in Mind), if we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, of the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.