How to Separate the Urgent from the Important

UPDATED: September 11, 2023
PUBLISHED: March 22, 2022
How to Separate the Urgent from the Important

W​​hen your business means everything to you, it can be hard not to feel like every single task is the most important thing. So how do you determine what is urgent vs. what is important? Does the distinction even matter?

In a word: yes. Urgent tasks often have urgent consequences that can be devastating to your business. But if you only deal with the urgent and not the important, you’re missing out on crucial opportunities for long-term growth and development. 

If you’ve ever felt like you spend your whole workday putting out fires, or you’re constantly busy but not seeing the professional or organizational results you want, it might be time to take a closer look at how you’re prioritizing the tasks on your plate

Tackle the time-sensitive stuff.

If a to-do item has a hard deadline that’s coming up fast, take care of it before tasks that have a more flexible time frame. Submitting reports, paying bills—get these things done and out of the way before they become a problem.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix.

This visual prioritization method, developed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, consists of a box with four quadrants: urgent and important, not urgent and important, urgent and not important, and not urgent and not important. By separating tasks thusly, you can start feeling in control of your short-term and long-term projects. There’s even an app for it!


Delegation is a big one for folks who feel like they never have a spare moment during the day. Looking for a place to start? Try unloading some of the things that fall into that “urgent and not important” category. 

Be proactive.

Unforeseen stumbling blocks and other urgent matters are inevitable—it comes with the territory of entrepreneurship. That’s why it’s important to be as proactive as possible. Making lists, delegating and keeping a meticulously updated calendar can help you stay on top of the day-to-day stuff, so when unexpected but urgent problems pop up, you’re ready to meet them head-on. 

Asma Ishaq

Orange County, California
CEO of Modere

What drives revenue in your company? What drives retention? Your answer to these questions will reveal what’s most important to your company, so it should be a matter of urgency to address anything that may threaten it. There will be unforeseen events that arise to create urgency, but it’s wise to be as prepared as possible to safeguard your highest priorities.

Our highest priority at Modere is our customers—and their customer experience. From ordering to delivery, our customer touchpoints are of the utmost importance, so we focus on ensuring the excellence and reliability of each and every element of those touchpoints. For example, we know that at any time, from among the 1,200+ SKUs we market, we may hit an unexpected setback related to anything from the supply of a specific ingredient to the quality of the cotton used in packaging. For this reason, we’ve taken steps to always have a Plan B, C and D in place to circumvent any unforeseen difficulties.

I also find that clearly defining your brand’s purpose and end goal within your company creates a culture that thrives on collectively meeting those goals, so when urgent matters arise, the team is motivated to meet the challenge. At Modere, we create annual plans that we measure for performance on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. Our team members are excited and energized to see us meet our goals and grow, and our customers keep returning because their experience is consistently positive.

Jenny Zhu

New York City
Founder and CEO of Triangle Home Fashions and Lush Décor

I started the company in 2008, during the financial crisis. As the founder and CEO, for the first 10 years, I was running everything by myself, without any outside help. I took a lot of things very personally, and I think, like a lot of entrepreneurs, I had a guilt—we work too much. I couldn’t balance life and work.

I feel like that’s how I got burnt out in the first 10 years. I couldn’t separate the important from the urgent. I was losing myself in the urgent and not focusing on the important. Every day, I micromanaged the urgent stuff.

I remember I had to work in the warehouse for a week, to show my team I could do it. On one hand, that’s good: You show that you’re part of the team. But I could’ve used that week to do a lot of important things to grow the company. When I talk to entrepreneurs early in their journey, I feel like everybody goes through that phase. But if you want to grow your company, you cannot do everything. You have to delegate.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by @criene/Twenty20

Cassel is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, a co-owner of Racket MN, and a VHS collector.