Differentiating Between “Urgent” and “Important” Saves You Time

BUrgent? Or important? Take a moment to look back on what you did today in your role as business owner or CEO. How much time was spent reacting to an urgent issue or crisis someone brought to you, which (according to them) demanded an immediate response? Alternatively, how much time did you spend working on an important project or strategic initiative that would move your company forward?


A business leader’s honest answer might be that he or she used up too much of their precious time putting out fires that, in the long run, have little or no bearing on the company’s strategic goals. The problem is, too many leaders see this as an essential part of their job. They assume that whatever they do during the work-day (and, often, well beyond the work-day) is, in and of itself, “important” because they’re doing it.

But as leadership and management experts from Stephen Covey to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower can attest, there’s a huge difference between “urgent” and “important.” Knowing that difference, and acting on it, can save you a great deal of time.

Adding Value

What constitutes an “urgent” situation? In many cases, urgency involves the phone ringing in your hand or a new text or email message that demands your attention. But after taking that call or responding to that text message, what do you have to show for the time spent? Often, very little of value has resulted from that particular activity.

Of course, “urgent” can also mean attending to tasks with a hard deadline. And the sense of urgency increases the closer you get to the deadline.

“Important” actions, on the other hand, rarely come across as time-sensitive. These activities relate to the company’s well-being and long-term growth—activities that, because they don’t appear urgent, can be put off time and again.

As Entrepreneur notes, important tasks “are those that, once done, will add significant value to your organization.” What have you done today to add value to your business and move things forward?

Get Your Team Involved

Quadrant 2 of Covey’s time-management matrix is a useful guide to what’s “important, but not urgent.” In a past TAB Blog post, we offered this approach to determining what’s of most importance and value to your company:

  • Put your important tasks and projects on a spreadsheet.
  • Distribute the spreadsheet to your leadership team and ask each of them to prioritize. (Don’t use a simple “rank 1 to 5” approach. Instead, give each executive 100 total votes to allocate across the tasks as they see fit.)
  • Collect and tally the results.

With this approach, a handful of priorities will rank significantly higher than the rest. This provides both business leaders and their teams a distinctive set of Quadrant 2 activities to focus on.



By and large, the “urgent” tasks coming across your desk every day can be handled by others on your team. Hard as it may be for some business and entrepreneurs-turned-CEOs, it’s vital to that you delegate these tasks as much as possible. Not only will this result in significant time savings for you, it also helps build confidence in your team and in its problem-solving capabilities. This way, when the next “urgent” crisis arises, they may elect to address it themselves, without pestering you.

Differentiating between “urgent” and “important” may, at times, feel like a subjective process. Generally speaking, however, most business leaders know in their gut that what they’re doing at any given moment falls into one or the other category. Taking steps to focus on what’s genuinely important will prove to be the most beneficial to your organization.

How do you compare to other business leaders when it comes to productivity and time management? View our latest infographic from the TAB Business Pulse Survey on Productivity.

Bill Edmonds is a business consultant and executive coach. He is the Owner of TAB Columbia and Northstar Leadership Solutions, both located in Columbia. SC. Previously he was a Market Director and Executive for Merrill Lynch, with leadership responsibility for most of South Carolina and parts of Georgia. Bill is a graduate of the University of South Carolina. He started his own financial services agency in the mid-1980s, prior to being recruited by Merrill Lynch to be an advisor, and then later for senior leadership roles with the firm.

2 Steps To More Effective Reading

90 Seconds To A Better Week!

Here’s the latest installment of our Monday 90 second video that addresses something we all need – a way to eliminate the noise and focus on the essentials….specifically, 2 steps to better manage your required reading.

GE Falls To Walgreen’s – How To Avoid The Same In Your Business Practice

By Bill Edmonds, CEO Northstar Leadership Solutions

In 1901, Charles R. Walgreen opened a drug store on the corner of Bowen Avenue and Cottage Grove in Chicago. Within 12 years he had four stores on Chicago’s South Side.

Last week Mr. Walgreen’s chain of pharmacies replaced long running stalwart General Electric as the newest company to be listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Index. To borrow a reference to famed Chicago White Sox Shoeless Joe Jackson; “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

GE became a member of the Dow in November of 1907. In the last two years the Dow is up nearly 45% and shares of GE are down about 55%. If you bought GE in May of 2006 at $13 you’re up 10% for the last 12-year period (GE px $14.30 6/27).

No tree grows to the sky.

This was a favorite saying of a mentor of mine. He was right. Some trees keep growing but many of the mighty oaks fall. They fall on poor decisions by leadership that is out of touch with reality. In the 2014 with oil at $100 per barrel, GE bought nine businesses in the oil and gas industry. That’s just one blunder. They also managed to blow up their financial services business, which had once been a sparkling jewel in their shiny crown.

What’s the lesson for business practitioners like you and I?

Keep moving, learning, creating, and dreaming. What’s “always been” won’t “always be” without some thoughtfulness about the future and without an assessment of the current reality. The best practitioners are not hoarding fossil fuels in the age of Tesla. Their spending time with other business practitioners in the same industry and across industry lines. The HR business owner is learning from the Financial Advisor…the Financial Advisor from the manufacturer…the manufacturer from the landscape architect… the landscape architect from the CPA…and so on.

What are they learning? The are learning the way other business owners do the three most important things that all business owners and entrepreneurs must do:

  • Grow their business– increase sales
  • Keep the business they have– service their customers and clients at ever increasing standards of excellence
  • Make money– Increase their margins

No matter what industry you’re in there are two things all business owners and practitioners must excel in:

  • Organizational Growth– building your teams for maximum efficiency, productivity, and execution, and…
  • Professional Development– uncovering the resources to develop yourself into the person you’re yet to be.

One of the best ways to do this is through “community.” Maybe a community of likeminded individuals engaged in the same industry is best for you – a place to hone your technical, industry specific crafts. Perhaps a group of non-competing business owners is the right fit – one where you learn best practices about people skills and decision-making. Regardless of which is best for you, it’s the secret sauce to taking your business to the next level.

Don’t fall with the mighty whimper of a $14 stock that personifies the mighty oak that once was. There’s a Walgreen’s that wants to replace your “corner” of the market and they’ll do it onyour corner withyour patrons unless you are intentional. “Yes Joe, it IS so!” The frontier still exists, but you’ve got to find it.

Will your tree grow to the sky? Not unless you prune and water it the right way. The stakes are high and any misstep could be devastating to you. Don’t go it alone! Everybody needs a coach, a community, and a course of action.

Which is missing from your business practice?

Bill Edmonds is an “Outside-Insighter who works with CEOs, Business Owners, and Financial Advisors to help them grow their business and simplify their lives. If you are successful, yet feeling a bit of “smoldering discontent” in your current role and not quite sure where your North Star is pointed, reach out to us to discuss how we might be able to help you get you back on track to take your business to the next level: info@northstarlead.com.

2 Questions Guaranteed to Simplify Your 2018

Today is the first day of the rest of your life!… a.k.a. day #1 of your New Year’s resolution. This is the time the majority of us will discard our bad habits, magically replacing them with good ones like broccoli, brussel sprouts, and tofu. At least that’s our plan.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the truth is as follows (source: www.StatisticBrain.com):

  • 58% of us will make New Year’s resolutions
  • 73% of us will stick to them for one week
  • 68% will make it two weeks
  • Only 9% will report success on their resolutions twelve months later

But don’t despair – I have a “resolution solution” for you that I’ll share with you momentarily.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of the New Year’s resolutions we make are focused on self-improvement or education – we want to be better so we can behave better. Behavioral change is the desire of our heart, but the weakness of our flesh.

In my role as an executive coach and business consultant, I work with individuals who want to improve their professional and personal lives. I can boil it down to two questions those I serve are asking – “Bill, can you help me be more productive and help me lower my stress level?”

Yes I can.

But first it’s important to note a fact or two; we Americans live in a consumer driven economy – we are driven to consume. We consume stuff and our stuff consumes us. It eats all of our discretionary money and it devours our precious time with the same insatiable appetite. If you think about it, our only non-replenishable asset is time. We can replenish our balance sheets with more money and even reconcile years of a bad relationship with a heartfelt apology, but we can never regain time that’s been spent. Time spent is non-replenishable.

What my clients are really asking me to do for them is to help them find more time so they can be more productive, have more margin in their life, and do it with less stress.

So, here’s the secret…

A couple of years ago I heard two guys who call themselves “The Minimalists“, share two questions we should all ask ourselves when we are about to take on additional stuff or trying to shed ourselves of stuff – either with our money, possessions, or our time:

  • Will this add value to my life?
  • Will this bring me joy?

If the answer to either one of these questions is “no”, don’t do it. If it’s “yes” to either question, then do it.

Allow me to illustrate.

Suppose you say, “I need a new car.” Question #1: Will this add value to my life? If you don’t already have a car the answer could very well be “yes”. You’re done, now. Go buy the car. But suppose you own a car with 100,000 miles that’s paid for, works fine, and is not held together by duck tape. You say, “I need a new car.” Question #1: “Will this add value to my life?” Answer: “No, I already have a car that gets me from point A to point B.” Now move on to question #2: “Will this bring me joy?” Answer: “Initially maybe, but after a week or two, no, it won’t bring me joy.”

You just avoided a new monthly payment, higher insurance costs, a larger property tax bill, buyer’s remorse, etc., all by answering only two questions. These two simple questions have the power to cut through the noise that whispers to your psyche such things as: “The neighbors bought a new car, I think we need one; my business will grow if people see my success in my new ride; I’m going to have to get a new car someday, it might as well be now; wow, 0% financing for 24 months!”

You just simplified your life and reduced your stress level by answering only two questions. Yes, only two questions! You can use this for purchases you are considering, items you’re thinking about discarding, and most importantly, every demand on your time that puts you in the “overwhelmed” category.

So forget the resolutions you’ve made and simply resolve to run every important decision (what to eat, whether to exercise, what to buy, how to spend time, etc.) through this 2 step process. Your “no’s” will keep your “nose” pointed toward your North Star and the results you desire for 2018!

EXTRA: Take this 3 min survey, 10 Quick Questions to Find Out if You Need a Coach, to see if coaching makes sense for you. 

Bill Edmonds is an “Outside-Insighter who works with CEOs, Business Owners, and Financial Advisors to help them grow their business while having fun doing it. If you are successful, yet feeling a bit of “smoldering discontent” in your current role and not quite sure where your North Star is pointed, don’t despair. Reach out to us to discuss how we might be able to help you get you back on track to take your business to the next level: info@northstarlead.com.