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« Getting to Your Goals: Step Three | Main | Plus or Minus? »
Saturday
Sep092006

Three Types of Urgent

There are basically two types of people in the world. There are those who are perfectly ordered and who always have time to take new initiatives, while at the same time being totally unfazed by any emergencies that come up. Don’t we just envy them! The other type spend their lives rushing up against deadlines, have their plans completely thrown out by anything that “must be done immediately”, and have lots of stuff which they mean to get around to sometime but never do. In other words they are you and me. Well, OK, perhaps you aren’t like that, but in that case why are you reading this website?

What’s the difference between these two types? Is it that the first type are better people, who one day will be summoned to a perfectly ordered heaven while the rest of us are condemned to be mired in the hell of our own total disorder for eternity? No, I don’t think so. I think the difference lies in the fact that the perfectly ordered people have learned the difference between three different types of urgency:

1) stuff that needs to be done straightaway

2) stuff that has a deadline sometime in the future

3) stuff that needs to be done but doesn’t have a deadline

Orderly people know how to deal with each of these. Disordered people on the other hand only know how deal with the first – the stuff that needs to be dealt with straightaway. Anything that doesn’t need to be done straightaway gets postponed until it does need to be done straightaway! That’s why a disordered person spends their life in a state of constant rush and pressure. Rush and pressure are the only ways they can get anything done. Anything with a deadline gets left until the last moment, and anything without a deadline never gets done at all. That’s why disorder is so fatal to your effectiveness, because the really important initiatives that will take your life, business or job forward rarely have deadlines.

Let’s have a look at how the ordered person deals with these three. We might then be able to imitate them and hopefully become models of order and effectiveness ourselves. What’s their secret? It is that they deal with each of the three types of urgency in a different way. Let’s see how they deal with each in turn:

Stuff that needs to be done straightaway. They do this straightaway, just like you and I do. The difference is that they have everything else under control, so the interruption causes far less disruption to the rest of their work.

Stuff with a deadline. This is where the ordered people work in a completely different way from you and me. We tend to leave everything to the last minute. They on the other hand use all the time that is available to get a project completed. If they have two weeks to write a report, they will use the full two weeks to research it and write it up properly, instead of winging it in the last two days like the rest of us do!

Stuff without a deadline. Orderly people know how to deal with this too. They will tackle these things one at a time. We disorderly people do it a different way – we either never get around to doing any of them, or we try to do all of them at once. Either way it’s a disaster. The orderly person’s way is to list the things they want to do and then decide what order they are going to do them in. Then they knock them off one at a time. That’s the way to move forward.

Reader Comments (9)

Aha! That might be what I'm doing wrong. I'm good with immediate, okay with deadlines (well, almost okay -- if I have 2 wks I start at 1 wk. I'm even okay with fuzzy deadlines. The weekly chores get done within 10 days.

It's the non-deadline and annual stuff I mess that never gets done around here. I spin around rather than pick one and do it bit by bit.
August 26, 2010 at 15:26 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
AutoFocus, invented in 2009, and DWM in 2010, are Mark's current solution to these problems:

Write urgent things on the list, those without deadline, on the list. Write deadlined things on your list, with the due date written beside the item. Proceed rapidly through your list, and work on each item as it stands out.

Annual stuff goes on a "tickler", which isn't part of Mark's systems but a good idea still. Figure when you should start working on that thing, and file it under that date. Or file the thing alphabetically and have a calendar/date book/diary remind you to get the thing active.
August 26, 2010 at 21:52 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Baljeu
My plan is to keep a calendar of "tickler" items and every week look ahead 4weeks (or so). Maybe 8 weeks so I see birthdays in time. Move items to the big list a bit before I want to start working on them and include deadlines if appropriate. That way the big list won''t get flooded with a years' worth of monthly tasks.

I'm still not used to scanning the entire list rapidly and often.
August 27, 2010 at 3:50 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
Cricket wrote:
<<<My plan is to keep a calendar of "tickler" items and every week look ahead 4weeks (or so). >>>

This is basically what DWM does automatically.

With DWM, when I get a new task with a deadline, I enter it at Today+30.

However, when I see that task while processing my list, especially when it crosses the Today+7 threshold, it gets my attention, and I may realize that I can't even start on the task for another 6 weeks. If that's the case, I'll enter it at Today+30+(6 weeks). This prevents it from cluttering up my list until it's actually actionable.


Birthdays and other annual events get the same treatment. They are entered every year on the date they occur, which causes them to start appearing on my DWM list 30 days before the event. Thirty days is plenty of time (for me) to figure out what I need to do for a birthday (usually!).

If there is some recurring annual event that requires more preparation time, then I can enter it as much time in advance as needed, and just note the due date. E.g., "Christmas shopping", entered on Dec 1st, annotated "due 12/25". I'll start seeing that appear in my list on Nov. 1st (Today+30). It will start to feel quite urgent on November 24th (when it hits Today+7).

I'm using Outlook Tasks so it's easy to automate all this, but in theory I don't see why you couldn't do this using a dated notebook, or "diary" as Mark calls it.
August 29, 2010 at 23:05 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim, If you enter at task at Today+30, when do you see it again? I'd not see it until that day. Well, I'd probably see it a week earlier when scanning for deadlines, and when I put other tasks on that day, but I wouldn't be looking for actionable items then. I need a specific task that says "look 2 months ahead". I find that easier than entering the birthday on my portable calendar every year when I get a new one and also entering "start shopping" 30 days earlier in my task calendar / DWM book / AF list.
August 30, 2010 at 16:07 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
Hi Cricket,

<<<If you enter at task at Today+30, when do you see it again? I'd not see it until that day.>>>

I don't think you are following the DWM rules correctly. You might want to read them again more closely.

The idea is to cycle through all tasks from Today through Today+30, working on anything that feels ready to be worked on, for as long as you feel like working on it. If you don't finish the task, then re-enter it at Today+7.

After cycling from Today through Today+30 in this fashion, you then start over at Today.

Anything dated Yesterday or earlier is "dismissed" or just deleted.


Following the rules like this, if you cycle through everything at least once per day, you will see (and potentially take action on) all the tasks from Today through Today+30.


Basically the date functions as an "expiration date", not an "action date". If you don't work on the task before the expiration date, then the task expires / dies / gets dismissed / deleted.

But you can work on ANYTHING that stands out as you cycle through the pages Today through Today+30.


Does that help?
August 30, 2010 at 21:26 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphim
Right! Proof that I'm doing more reading and playing than actually using it. I'm so used to todo lists being out of date (which is more AF than DWM). An expiry date just doesn't feel right to me, although AF's closed pages are essentially that.
August 31, 2010 at 13:59 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
It didn't feel right to me either, at first, but then I started to really like it. For the first time, it gave me a very good feel of how much work was really on my plate, how much I could really handle. My AF list would just grow continually -- the dismissal process wasn't fast enough.
September 1, 2010 at 0:10 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphim
Just today, a Ron Jeffries suggested exactly the same thing as Mark. When the boss comes in and says "I need you to make this a priority", he asks, "Do you mean expedite it, or have it for the next software release, or get to it when you have time?"

So now with SuperFocus, the mechanics are
A) column 2
B) column 1, but deadline noted
C) column 1, importance noted.
March 21, 2011 at 13:56 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

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