Urgent vs. Important

On prioritizing
What caring for an eight-pound human being taught me about running my business, getting things done and feeling accomplished at the end of the day.

I am a list-maker. I like to makes lists at the beginning of the day and mark things off as I go. It’s exceptionally satisfying to see the progress I’m making throughout the day. When I became a new mother, this didn’t change – I still made lists. What changed was my waning capacity to mark things off.

This depressed me. Sometimes I felt like I was drowning. I would get angry at myself, then my baby. Then I would feel guilty at feeling angry. It was a vicious cycle. Often, the end of the day would be upon me and I would realize that I had only marked one thing off my list.

So then I tried to be Superwoman. I skipped naps when my daughter napped, despite being up every 2 hours during the night. I started snapping at my (also exhausted) husband. I felt out of control.

And then I broke down. I snapped at my husband one to many times, which caused an argument, which resulted in me melting into the floor, a pile of tears. And so my husband held me and hugged me and told me it would be ok. And then I called my mom. Moms have a way of knowing exactly what to say. She reminded me that my only job right now is to take care of myself, and take care of the baby. Nothing else matters.

And so I started breathing again. And quickly realized that my problem wasn’t that I didn’t have enough time in the day to get things done. My problem was my list. And specifically, believing that everything on the list was important. It wasn’t.

So I started making two lists. An Important list and an Urgent List.

The Urgent list was long. A trail of small, tedious tasks. No matter how many things we cross of this list, there were always more to take their place.

Then there was the Important List. It was short. After a few days, a pattern emerged. I could narrow it down to just 3 things, every day:

1. Take care of my baby (nurse, snuggle, love)
2. Take care of myself (nap, eat nourishing foods)
3. Be grateful (thank my mom and husband for all their help)

Nothing else mattered before these three things. If I marked off every item on my Urgent list before any one thing on my Important list, the day would be a failure. If I marked everything off my Important list, the day would be a success. And if I marked something off the Urgent list in addition to accomplishing the Important 3, well, then I was Superwoman.

What this afforded me was freedom. I gave myself a break. And it allowed me delegate the things that I didn’t really have to be doing to people wanting to help.

Now, four months into motherhood and rounding out the end of my maternity leave, I realize I can apply the same philosophy to running a business.

If I only achieve 3 things in my working day, what would they be?

1. One kind thing for my business
2. One kind thing a day for myself
3. One kind thing a day for someone else

Most of what we do as business owners everyday is busy-work. It’s stuff that weighs us down and gets in the way of true growth. By committing one 3 kind things every day, you’re telling the world what really matters to you.

Then, anything else you accomplish beyond that is extra credit. But if you don’t accomplish anything else – who cares? You’ve already done three good, important things that have made a difference in your life and someone else’s life.

Maybe one kind thing for your business is investing in that education program you’ve had your eye one. One kind thing for yourself is taking a walk in the woods or getting a massage. And one kind thing for someone else could be sending an unexpected note of encouragement or gratitude.

I’m willing to bet that once you start crossing these off your to-do list, you’ll realize that you have more than enough time to get done at least a few of those never-ending tasks. And if you’re still feeling overwhelmed? Start asking for help. There are people out there who love to do the things on your urgent list that you hate to do. When you begin delegating those things to other people, you’re actually marking all 3 things off you’re Important list at once:

1. You’re being kind to yourself by focusing on the things you love
2. You’re strengthening your business with a team of professionals.
3. You’re helping someone out by giving them a paying job

Overwhelm is overrated. Choose carefully what matters to you and watch your world fall into place.

{ 2 comments }

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

DAF February 24, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Just read WHAT I GAVE UP FOR MOTHERHOOD,
THE BEST DECISION I’VE EVER MADE FOR MY BUSINESS and
URGENT VS. IMPORTANT
Can definitely see the compositions of a book in the making.
Great words of wisdom and advice for life and business.

Nina June 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

I just woke up in one of those ‘the day is too overwhelming to get out of bed’ moods…. After Reading your blog post, i feel like i can take on the day. Ive got three important things in mind and Im ready to conquer The world. Thanks, em <3

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