There are important things, and then there are unimportant things. Can you tell the difference?
This is the fourth and final post in a new series about ways to take back your time by figuring out when your ideal working hours are, making the most of your down time, making time for rest and fun, and prioritizing and eliminating. Stay in touch to make sure you don't miss the rest of the series! And if you missed the first, second, or third posts, you can catch them here, here, and here.
Urgent vs. Important
All too often, we get caught up in addressing urgent things instead of important things. Sometimes things will fall into both of these categories, but sometimes they don't.
For instance, I get notifications on my phone when someone likes my business's Facebook page, and checking the stats feels urgent. But it's not really all that important. I can do that later. It's not really going to change anything.
It's important for me to stay on top of my budget and my expenses, but because I use my debit card for just about everything and have my bills on autopay, I tend to forget to check my account balance and keep myself in check. While it's important, it doesn't feel urgent.
Flipping the Switch
How do we go about focusing on the right things? There are only so many things we can do on any given day, so how do we decide which things warrant our attention and which can wait?
For me, it comes down to asking one simple question: on a scale of one to ten, how crucial is it that I do this task right now?
If something falls on the low end of the scale (1-3), I give myself the permission to put it on the back burner or throw it out the window altogether. I certainly don't have to do it that day; I might not have to do it at all.
If the task at hand falls in the middle range (4-6), I consider if there would be a better time to do it later. If I can put it off for a day or two or longer and still get it done, I plan to do so. I change the due date on the to-do list app on my phone so I won't completely forget about it, and then I let it go. It's off my plate for today.
And if something lands on the higher end of the scale (7-10), I prioritize it on my list for that day. Even toward the top of the list, some things take precedence over others. I try to make sure I get the most important things done first so that I know they are taken care of.
Discerning the Real Need
What makes something important? That's something you'll likely have to define for yourself, but there are some things to take into consideration.
I will often consider the task I have in front of me, and ask myself these questions:
- Is this something only I can do? (In other words, could I delegate or outsource it instead?)
- Is this something that brings me joy? (It's a good idea to weave regular bursts of fun into our lives.)
- Is this something that can wait until tomorrow, the weekend, or next week without anything or anyone suffering a great deal? (Many times, things can wait and be just fine!)
- Do I really need to do this at all? (Sometimes we place unnecessary expectations on ourselves to do too many things, when, really, some of them can be eliminated entirely.)
How does this change how we live? Hopefully, it helps us prioritize the right things.
My hope is that you will be able to discern the difference between urgent and important. I know that even with that knowledge, I still mistake one for the other every now and again, but it has helped me tremendously.
Understanding that not all urgent things are important, and trusting that there are things that don't fall into either category, has given me greater power to eliminate things from my to-do list because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are better things to be doing with my time.
It takes away the guilt because I know I'm making the most important things a priority (or at the very least, trying to), so when I don't get to the things at the bottom of the list (or, as I'm learning to do, leaving them off entirely and letting them go), it's not a big deal!
How do you prioritize and eliminate things to be sure you focus on the most important things and spend your time doing what matters to you without losing your mind? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!