Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” - Dwight D Eisenhower
We know our important work. It has been carefully listed in our 20% column. Now, we must acknowledge another type of work: Urgent work. Urgent work may sometimes be part of our 20% important work. However, there are plenty of times when it is not part of the important things we need to do on a daily basis.
Urgent work comes in many forms. It can be from management, customers, or vendors demanding projects, phone calls, and emails. Most of the time, this work isn’t bad, but it may not be the best thing to focus our time on first.
We have all experienced situations where urgent work may not be important, but sometimes we need to finish it in order to get the rest of our work done. In fact, I have several very specific memories of when urgent work pushed its way into my workflow.
Urgency Tries to Push Its Way in Before Important
In the middle of some of the busiest months at my work, we spend a lot of time jumping from one task to the next with a heavy workload continually growing around us. We have customers who don’t understand that we are extremely busy and will get back to them in due course. After all, they don’t know what our day looks like.
However, there was one particular customer who really wanted an update about his claim. It wasn’t that he wanted a follow-up once a month or even once a week. He wanted an update EVERY DAY. If I didn’t give him a call first thing in the morning, then he would call me.
Then he would email.
And then he would call to follow-up on his email.
He would send me another email following up his call.
Without fail, he would then call our general company line and report that I was not calling him back. The customer service representative would send me a note and tell him I would call back within 24 hours.
It didn’t stop there. This particular individual would then send a message via our website which would be delivered to me and my supervisor. He would do all of this in less than an hour. Every day. First thing in the morning, before I had even arrived at work.
So my day would start with two voicemails, two emails, a message from another representative, and one more from an auto-generated system. This guy would inundate me every day before I would get to work with a need for an update which was always the same.
And he did this for a whole month.
All of this communication is urgent communication for our company. Voicemails, emails, and automatically generated notices make bells and whistles go off to management that something is wrong. Even though nothing was wrong. This guy was just impatient.
Still, I would always have to start my day with a call to this customer who, ironically, would not answer his phone when I called. I would also send a follow-up email which he only respond to when he wanted another update. And I would have to let my supervisor know I followed up with him.
Urgent tasks and work cause us to be more reactive than proactive about our days and our productivity. We sometimes feel compelled to get those tasks done NOW – even if they are not important.
But this is the sort of thing we all face on many different levels. We have urgency in our work, and yet, it isn’t always important that we do it right away. For example, another set of urgent tasks which I receive on a regular basis happens when other insurance companies contact me for a status update. They act in a similar way as the customer. They call, email, and then fax a letter asking for a response to their call and email. My response is not important to my workflow, but it is urgent communication.
Understanding how to work within the battle between urgent and important is essential to our productivity success.