34. Urgent vs. Important

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Have you ever refused work because you “already have too much to do”?

It makes sense. You can only do so much and you don’t want to give a false “yes” when you know your time and attention are already maxed out.

Ok, what about this. Do you at least track that work? When requests come in, even if you don’t have time, do you at least write it down somewhere?

If not, then you may be putting your priorities at risk. Because if you don’t track the work you’re not doing, then you’re taking the position that the most recent work is the least important.

Think about it. Instead of responding to new challenges and opportunities, you are responding to the challenges and opportunities you had yesterday... or last week... or a few months ago. So, if something new (and maybe super important) pops up, you’re less likely to even consider it because you’ve already got too much to do. This highlights the important difference between urgent and important (sometimes called the Covey or Eisenhower matrix).

Important activities are aligned with our purpose and priorities, whether these are professional or personal.

Urgent activities demand immediate attention because consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, it’s easier to move away from stressful “firefighting” and into working on important stuff before it becomes urgent.

This is exactly why we think keeping a list of next actions is a core habit. Because Holacracy requires you to track projects and next actions (rather than commit to completing them) so that you can make good, clear choices.

What if a new opportunity is actually ten times more important than your current project? Don’t miss out simply because you want to cross-off everything on your to-do list.

So, keep tracking your next actions. If not all of them, at least some of them. What is the next concrete action you need to take on that project? And remember to take time to step back and review your list. What has changed? What else should you be doing? What’s no longer needed?

Normally, we don't track work we aren't doing because we don't want stress. But if we only list the urgent stuff (whether or not it's important), then stress becomes our primary motivator. We become our own micro-manager standing skeptically and disapprovingly over our own shoulders.

David Allen says it this way: "You can only feel good about what you're not doing when you know what you're not doing." But don't take our word for it. Try it and see.