A recent study proved that we humans have a tendency to prioritise urgency over importance. Think of that to-do list that’s growing in size daily. It seems we’re more likely to perform tasks from it that are unimportant rather than deal with the important ones first – especially when the unimportant tasks are characterised merely by a false sense of urgency … creating what the researchers describe as a mere urgency effect.
Learning this reminded me to take another look at the Eisenhower Matrix, made famous probably by Stephen Covey who included it in his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And I was wondering why we don’t make better choices when faced with the urgent/important dichotomy? I can only imagine it’s something to do with us knowing something as important being a simple act of intellect – we know it’s important – but when something is classed as urgent, we act on our emotion – perhaps a lurch in the stomach based on awareness of some impending need, or a breaking out in a sweat because we know something needs to happen, and it needs to happen now (or at least we think it does).
Common sense of course tells us to try to be calm, to rationalise, to work out logically which task we need to do now, or next, or much later. And prioritising in an unrushed, quiet moment, is what we hope for, but so rarely get.
So it seems that we need to consciously practise weighing up each task that hits that to-do list according to its own merits, and balancing urgency and importance, and possibly pay-off.
Quick wins are often possible, and very satisfying, but win-win seems only truly achievable when the head and the heart work together in a true partnership to work out the best answer.