The Important Difference Between URGENT and IMPORTANT tasks

Uncategorized Jun 18, 2018


The tasks required of a mum these days is incredible. 

Mums are the heartbeat of the household and are constantly working hard to ensure their loved ones have a great home life. 

A recent study revealed a mother’s average morning involved juggling at least 26 little jobs  (signing permission slips, ironing uniforms, making kids lunches..) while completing at least 12 major tasks each day - school drop off, organising meals and managing domestic chores.   

And this all takes place amongst a flurry of moods, arguments and accidents in between.

It’s no wonder burnout and overwhelm are a terms synonymous with modern parenting. 

The study also revealed…

  • Six in ten mums fought with their partners because they felt they were relied on too heavily to remember everything for all the other people. 
  • One in eight mums said they had forgotten to pick up their child from school and left them waiting at the gates. 
  • Others admitted to staying up late to make fancy dress costumes after remembering their child needed one the day before. 

Being a Mum is h.e.c.t.i.c.

When each task feels just as important as the next, each year passes by so very quickly, and moments become a blur.  But guess what the biggest regret of empty-nester Mums is?  


That in their haste of getting things done, they missed some of the richness of key moments with their children. 


So how do we do to get things done as well as free time up to be present for those important everyday moments with our kids?   The goal for many of us is to slow down and be more intentional (and mindful) but quite often our best intentions can fall by the wayside.  How do we do it with all the other demands of life calling us all over the place?  

More about the Mindfulness of Minimalism here

In this blog post, I'll show you a simple effective strategy to prioritise the "to do's" in your life.

This strategy isn't mine, in fact, it originated from a Matrix made by former US president  Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He famously once gave an address where he mentioned a former college professor of his who once said...


“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important.

The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.”


Eisenhower revealed that it was in considering this statement that he was able to effectively prioritise his time to get a lot of important things done around the Oval Office (little things... you know... like creating NASA and that... ) 

He created a Matrix to that allowed him to classify all his jobs into these following categories...


Do. Drop. Plan for. Delegate.  


And his metric for sorting these jobs was based on how important they were.  And whether or not they lined up with what he wanted to achieve.  

I've thought about this matrix since I came across it some years ago, but it's only recently that I've thought about just how beneficial it is for busy Mums who want to prioritise the (many) events, duties and demands that come up in an average day. 



Turquoise - Urgent & Important

These are things that need to be dealt with immediately. They cannot be planned.  Crises, family emergencies, pressing problems, hard deadlines.

For Mums, things like

  • A sick child
  • Car breaks down
  • Last minute school project
  • An escalating squabble between the kids
  • Child has a serious problem at school
  • Baby wakes up in the middle of the night crying inconsolably

Although we cannot eliminate all of these tasks, we can become proactive in minimising their urgency if we put in the time up ahead.  ie – Spending time each afternoon on the school project, (or talking to your children about things they have on at school each night), regularly talking about how to resolve conflicts when they're not fighting.  

If you're feeling burnout, stressed or like you're always on the back foot - putting out the 'spot fires' of life, you're spending too much of your day in this Quadrant.  

Light Grey - Not Urgent but Important 

This is the place you want to spend most of your time. It’s where you’ll find ALL the joy and meaning.  Time spent in this quadrant is time spent nourishing your family relationships and personal well being today and in the future. 

But this quadrant won't call for your attention like the others will.  The things in this quadrant aren't pressing and so they're often put on the back burner of our lives.  We tell ourselves we’ll get to them later... tomorrow ... next week.   But never quite get around to them.

 Things in this category include

  • Finding time for self care practices
  • Finding what it is that ‘lights you up’
  • Working towards goals you want to achieve
  • Intentional/meaningful conversations with your kids
  • Being creative
  • Developing helpful household routines, training kids in specific jobs they can ‘own’ that will help you out
  • Meal planning
  • Reading stories to your kids, going for walks, playing games
  • Developing and planning for events
  • Decluttering your house

Living in this quadrant does not come naturally, despite what you might think of those who are able to do it (very few of us!)  It requires you to constantly push against the demands and distractions of modern living.  It requires you to consciously decide to live an intentional and proactive life.   Because, lets fact it,  we tell ourselves we're going to get around to doing all the valuable and important stuff once our schedules clear up a little. But when does that happen!  We're always going to feel  just as busy as we do right now. 

In fact, life only seems to get busier! 

Dark Grey - Urgent but Not Important

Ladies, this is where we fly.... like bees to a honeypot!   

It looks appealing and seems like the right thing to do, but we wind up getting stuck in here and losing our way.  People who spend too much time here, react to things that are urgent and assume they’re important, then wonder where the day went. 

  • Spending time with people who want to tell you their life story
  • Disorganised friends/co-workers needing ‘a favour’
  • Unplanned email/text interruptions requiring an instant reply
  • Someone drops in unannounced with a problem or requiring your help
  • Maintaining a fast-paced schedule of after-school activities when it keeps you from helping your kids with their daily homework

Don't get me wrong, helping people out is very important and is satisfying but there MUST be boundaries.  Especially if you feel like you’re not making any progress towards your own long term goals or if you're not feeling fulfilled in life.  What you are prepared to cut out of your life that falls into this category, is something only YOU can decide. 

But if you're feeling frustrated and resentful its because you're spending too much time here.

Don't delude yourself by thinking that because you have a crazy long list of things to do that you're making any progress to what's important in life.  Be honest with yourself about how much of your time in this quadrant affects your quality of life and overall happiness.  People pleasers spend a LOT of time here, often sacrificing their own happiness. 

Modern technology doesn't help.  24 hour news telling us the tragedies of the day, social media and text messaging sends us so much information and requests at all times of the day.. ALL of it demanding our attention, and making us feel bombarded with urgent things that aren't going to add value to our lives. 

Cream - Not Urgent and Not Important

This is usually where we go when we’re stressed, need to escape/relax or just do something that doesn’t require too much effort or thinking.  

This is the quadrant of distraction. 

The items in this quadrant don’t have to be done and they make very little difference in the grand scheme of things

  • Binge watching television
  • Spending too much time on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Excess shopping and spending money you may not have
  • Drinking too much
  • Eating too many high sugary, indulgent foods
  • Standing in line to be the first to buy the newest electronic gadget

Sadly, as a society, our lives have become so stressed and overwhelmed, that this is the area many people spend their lives. Living in this area creates a spiral effect where you become unmotivated and moving out of this quadrant, becomes extrememely difficult.  That then leads to not honouring responsibilities, disengaging from life and depending on others for help too much. 

It's not to say that we shouldn't do any things in this quadrant.  Hey,  who doesn’t love a couch binge every now and then?  But you should be aware and conscious of the time you are spending here. 

To put this all in perspective, I'd like to use a recent example of my life.  Here were some of the things going on in my head last week..

Overwhelming Right?

Yes, totally. 

But organising it this way (below) made it so much easier to make decisions about each one..

That wasn't to say I TOTALLY deleted that cream quadrant, I still watched that show on Netflix and I also checked my Facebook!  (After I had checked off things in the other quadrants).

The difference was that I was aware of the big picture and conscious of the time spent in the cream quadrant.

Had I not checked items off in the other quarters first, I know it would've created some urgencies later on, (I know that when I set aside time to spend quality time with my kids, not only do we all feel good about it, but it also minimises many of their demands for attention later on.)


The reality of Motherhood is that you cant break this formula and win the game, you can only break yourself against it.  


The Important activities have an outcome that lead to us to finding peace, fun and enjoyment with our families, having a sense of meaning, achieving our goals and having a fulfilling life.

The Urgent activities are things that usually don't.  They're often a result of things that haven't been tended to in advance, or you being required to become involved in what's Important to someone else.  


Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.

- Goethe -


Ever wondered why kids whinge about the little things?  Or make mountains out of what you consider to be a mole hill?  Its because in order to feel IMPORTANT, they're learning that they need to be URGENT.  But, if you set time aside to make them feel important, their sense of urgency dies down. 


Below is another representation of this matrix. 




Tony Robbins has taken this idea and given each quadrant a zone name based on how we should view it. 


"The people who experience lives of total fulfilment spend 40 – 70% of their time in the inner circle.  The Bullseye"        

- Tony Robbins - 


I love having this as my target, the BULLSEYE!  Spending time doing things here in my inner circle is what makes me feel happy and fulfilled.  

But doing so required me to make  some serious changes to my life.

It also requires you to have the ability to push back against the calls for what is urgent by everyone around you!  (And this is sometimes hard to do!)

Get started with the 30 Day Challenge here. 

Never forget, the bullseye.

it is really what you’re aiming for in life and it’s where you want to spend the majority of your time.

I really like this circular model because it gives me a visual of the outer rings... (the places I try and limit in my life.)

The places we all go when we want to escape.   The zones of delusion and distraction.  I know if I find myself wanting to spend time here it’s usually because I haven’t hit the bullseye enough and I need the (often easier) false sense of feeling good about myself. (The outer rings take the edge off our feelings, but it don’t fulfil us and so we feel frustrated and confused.)

The target, the bullseye, really is the only one that we have control over.  And we can all make changes to our lives to ensure we spend time here.

Yes, there are things in life we can’t control.  But sometimes this is an easy way out to cry the victim!!

There is wisdom in knowing what REALLY cannot be controlled, and what  can be influenced with a little bit of work in advance.  By being proactive and anticipating what may come up, a Lot of the urgencies in the turquoise quarter can be minimised. 

Ultimately the biggest sources of frustration we have in life, will come from the same source.  And that is our inability to stop prioritising the darker grey circle. That which is Urgent, but not Important.

For most of us, prioritising this zone is our default mode.  And overwhelm, really, is just a matter of time because it takes a lot of willpower and self discipline to switch gears, and move out of this mode.  It requires ‘going against the herd’ and risking those around us not agreeing with our choices, or accepting what we do. The rewards of living in the light grey quadrant... the Bullseye, don’t come naturally, they need to be actively cultivated and expressed.  

But make no mistake, they're absolutely worth it!