Urgent & Important? Coping With Your Overwhelming To-Do List

August 23, 2021

You might be familiar with Steven Covey’s time management matrix. Tasks are sorted into 4 quadrants:

  • tasks that are important AND urgent
  • tasks that are important but NOT urgent
  • tasks that are urgent but not important
  • tasks that are neither important nor urgent

Urgent tasks are those that have a looming deadline. Important tasks are those that move you towards your goals.

Tasks that are not important (they don’t earn income or build your business) and not urgent (they can be done any time, and there are no consequences if you ignore them forever) should never make it onto your to-do list, and if they have, you can safely cross them off.

Tasks that are important AND urgent tend to be a high priority and get done, as do tasks that are urgent, even if they are less important. There’s something about a looming deadline that kicks us into gear and makes us take action.

In this blog, however, I want to look at the never-ending stories – the tasks that are important, but because they are not urgent, they just keep slipping endlessly down our to-do list, loading us up with guilt and reducing our belief in our own competence.

The “Plumber With The Dripping Tap” tasks

While practicing what we preach is essential for maintaining our sense of professional integrity, too often these kinds of tasks get put off and put off until a crisis makes them urgent.

I delivered 2 rounds of Castle Quest before I finally got around to writing the program agreement. Even though I fully understand how important it is to protect my intellectual property and give my participants certainty about how to get the most out of my course, I was so busy writing contracts for everyone else that I never made the time to write my own.

As a result, I spent two years feeling like I could not promote Castle Quest to its full potential because – hello – it is a risk management program, I know that contracts are an essential element in managing risk, and I didn’t have one.

Where are you letting yourself get away with behaviour that you would not accept from a client? I hear these kinds of stories all the time, from the social media manager who hasn’t posted on her own Instagram account in months, to the nutritionist who shovels in crap between client calls because she hasn’t had time to prep something healthy.

Putting off these kinds of task, where we KNOW we know better, can be a way of upper limiting ourselves, keeping ourselves small, proving we are unworthy of achieving success. If you are finding that your business growth has stalled, being honest about the red flags that you would fix for a client and holding yourself to the same standard of best practice can create some massive shifts.

The “Should (but don’t really wanna)” tasks

These are often boring, complicated or tedious tasks that really need to be done – but the world won’t end if they are not done today, so we push them down below the more interesting things on our list.

It could be calling your insurance broker, keeping your tax records up to date, or folding the laundry.

The more you ignore these kinds of task, the heavier they become – and you are carrying the weight of all those undone “should” around with you everywhere you go. It is easier to judge yourself poorly for your procrastination than it is to force yourself to get one of these tasks done and off your list.

Who would you be if you weren’t dragging this load of disappointment in yourself around?

Just like bad weather often looks worse through a window, once we schedule some time and make ourselves take action on one of these kinds of tasks, we often look back at how little time it took to complete and how easy it was and wonder why we held onto our resistance for so long.

The “One Day, Some Day (and I’ll feel guilty ’til I do)” tasks

This could be a big dream, like that novel you always said you were going to finish writing one day (oh wait – that’s me)… or the daily exercise program you were going to commit to so you could finally lose that baby weight (oops – me again)… or it could be something little but significant to you. One member of The Serenity Connective had inherited some silverware from her Nana that was badly tarnished. She had “buy silver polish” on her to-do list for more than 18 months.

These tasks are often personally important to us, so we keep them on the list. Over time, our failure to meet our own expectations builds up guilt and shame that can affect our faith in our own competence and capacity. Who are we to say we can solve problems for our clients if we never take action on the things that are important to ourselves?

This feeling also stops us from fully celebrating our successes – sure we achieved that marvellous milestone but look at all the things we said were important for us to achieve but we never took action on.

For these kinds of tasks, it helps to assess whether they are still something that is important to us. For example, I recently archived a stack of professional development webinars that I had purchased, wasn’t able to attend live, and had not made time to watch the recordings of. While they were important enough for me to sign up for in the first place, keeping them in my inbox as reminders that I hadn’t watched them yet was a constant drag on my sense of achievement. Making the decision to remove them from view so they were no longer accusing me of not making time for them felt liberating.

For tasks that make the cut and are still important to you, an accountability buddy can help. Within days of admitting the shameful secret of the silver polish on her list, and making a commitment to finally finish that never ending story, the polish was bought, the trays were shining, and we all celebrated the achievement together.

How I can help

Every August in my mastermind membership, the Serenity Connective, our mission is to take action on our never-ending stories – and we support each other to amazing achievements in ticking things off our important but not urgent list.

If you find yourself suffering under the weight of these kinds of tasks, come and join us!

We have a different mission for each month of the year – and they are all important and transformational for our business practice. Every year we loop around and do the missions again so we can celebrate how much we have grown, while taking action on the new stories that have taken hold of us.

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