The difference between important and urgent: Examples

Published on 04/03/2024

The difference between important and urgent: Examples

Published on 04/03/2024

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Urgent vs. important. Differences and examples.

Something is important due to its significance, interest, convenience, or the extent of its effects. Urgency is recognized by its necessity, the urgency it implies, or the consequences that its absence can cause. We’ll explain why it’s crucial for you to know the differences between the two.

Separately, it’s easy to establish priorities between tasks when one is urgent or if, among the set of activities to be carried out, there is one of greater importance. Difficulties begin to arise when both concepts intersect. In those cases, it may be interesting to apply the following classification:

The difference between important and urgent: Examples


The interpretation of this table will depend on the circumstances of each organization, the policies of each department, the duration and complexity of each task, its effects, implications for oneself and others, and, of course, common sense. In general terms, the order of action could be determined as follows:

Urgent and Important: It is essential to dedicate time to these activities as a top priority without delay.

Urgent but NOT Important: Tasks that should be attempted to delegate, as much as possible. Important but NOT Urgent: Activities that should be postponed, but ensuring that it is not for an extended period, always considering their priority.

Neither Important Nor Urgent: These activities should be discarded.

This article discusses the difference between urgent and important in time management. If you want to learn more about this topic, download our new free guide: Keys to optimize work time management.

How to recognize important tasks and differentiate them from urgent ones

Sometimes, this confusion is more common than desired. Urgent matters almost always demand our immediate attention and manage to shift our focus, pressuring until they are completed. The risk lies in postponing important activities due to this pressure, consuming resources on tasks that contribute little or nothing of value, and/or depleting energy, diminishing our effectiveness.

The negative effects related to urgent activities can be minimized by considering the following principles of action:

  • If two tasks require the same amount of time, the one with the earlier deadline should be considered more urgent.
  • When two tasks have the same deadline, the more time-consuming one should be deemed more urgent.
  • Postponing the deadline of a task decreases its level of urgency.
  • Discovering that a task takes longer than anticipated increases its level of urgency.
  • A task without a deadline will never be urgent.

Important activities can be distinguished from the rest because they yield tangible results and align with individual goals and objectives, as well as organizational goals. They can be defined as key tasks. The main risk associated with these tasks is delaying their completion due to their lower level of urgency compared to others; however, by doing so, the value they bring is overlooked.

To avoid this problem and identify opportunities, one must think preventively and apply the following rules:

  • If two tasks produce similar consequences, regardless of workload or difficulty, both should be considered equally important.
  • When prioritizing between two different tasks, the more important one will always be the one causing more severe consequences if left incomplete.
  • If the consequences of an activity change, its importance will increase or decrease, even if the task remains the same and nothing else has changed.

Those who confuse important with urgent believe that everything urgent is important. They usually rely on the priorities and expectations of others, perhaps because they have never analyzed their own. On the opposite end are individuals who pay no attention to either important or urgent matters. These individuals waste time on meaningless activities and are characterized by a lack of responsibility.

At a midpoint, you find the majority of people, who, due to bad habits, stress, or lack of planning, may prioritize inadequately and fall into confusion as discussed in the preceding lines. To avoid such situations, there is nothing more than:

  • Understand the difference between urgent and important.
  • Invest the necessary time in creating a good daily plan (regardless of the minutes spent, it will save time).
  • Obtain metrics that provide objective data to understand the proportion of time devoted to important and urgent matters. This allows you to determine if you have adhered to the planning and assess whether you are working objectively.

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