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SF Tips - #6: Urgent Tasks

In my previous SF tip I talked about Unfinished Tasks. Now I want to deal with the other component of Column 2, Urgent Tasks.

It’s necessary first to establish exactly what is meant by “urgent” in this context. Urgency must not be confused with importance. As in Covey’s Four Quadrants, something may be Urgent but Not Important, Urgent and Important, Important but Not Urgent or Neither Urgent nor Important.

The only tasks which qualify for Column 2 are those that are Urgent but Not Important or Urgent and Important. It’s their urgency that qualifies them, not their importance.

So what is the definition of urgent? Basically urgency is user-defined. Something is urgent because you have decided that it is urgent. So to give some examples from a SuperFocus perspective:

1) Doing the dishes after a meal is urgent if you have decided that the dishes should be done after every meal. It’s not urgent if you have decided they should only be done once a day or less.

2) Clearing email is urgent if you have a policy that emails should be replied to immediately. It’s not urgent if your policy is that they should be be replied to within 24 hours.

3) Catching a bus is urgent if you have decided that you need to catch a particular bus. But if you have decided that it doesn’t matter which bus you catch, then it’s not urgent.

4) If you have decided that you are going to concentrate on one particular project today, then starting working on that project is urgent at the beginning of the day.

5) If you have decided that you are going to concentrate on a particular project over this week, then starting working on that project is urgent at the beginning of this week.

Basically an urgent task or project is something that you want to ensure that you work on before you move off the current page.

Note that just because you want to do something today doesn’t make it urgent (unless you are near the end of the day). You should be aiming to do at least one pass through your list per day, so all tasks will have had a chance of being worked on during the course of a day.

As with unfinished tasks, it’s important to keep the number of urgent tasks relatively small - otherwise you will bog the system down. Remember:- if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

In the next tip I will talk about tasks that are both urgent and unfinished.

Related articles:

The Meaning of Urgent

Three Types of Urgent

Reader Comments (4)

There's a phrase I like from the Kanban software development community: "cost of delay". It reminds me that something is often urgent because as time passes without completing the objective, cost or penalties or undesired outcomes accrue or occur. It's sometimes easier for me to take the question, "Is this urgent?" and flip it into, "What's the cost of delaying this?" and answer it more concretely. I feel like my sense of urgency about that item then flows from understanding the cost of not acting in a timely manner about it. Conversely, the answer may increase the ease with which I ignore a task once I have a clearer sense of the cost of delaying action on it. Seraphim's earlier guest post highlighted the cost of delaying action on items that were disliked: they got dismissed, then they resurfaced, then they were dismissed until a better solution was found. Actions may, of themselves, have a cost of delay or the cost may come from the surrounding system dynamic (unwanted but necessary tasks repeatedly cycling through your SF list). For some tasks, cost of delay will hit the threshold that pushes you to add it to column 2.
March 30, 2011 at 23:27 | Registered CommenterTim Shadel
Hi Mark,

I've been using SF for about a week now and one question that I have is about interruptions, hoping you may be able to offer some suggestions.

I work in IT. The nature of my work is that I'm usually doing project work, but I'm also signed into the helpdesk phone queue and sometimes my days have many interruptions. When the phone rings, I have to help that person with whatever problem they are having, but then I can get back to MY work.

So I'm working on a project task. The phone rings and a person needs to to fix their computer.

What to do with the project task?
- Mark it as complete but unfinished, and re-enter on column 2 of the next page? But I want to keep working on it when the phone call is finished.
- Mark it as complete, re-enter it on column 2 of the active page? On some days, I may have 10 phone calls, column 2 will fill up very quickly.
- Don't mark it as complete yet?

What to do with the new task generated by the phone call?
- Enter it in column 2 of the active page? This could fill column 2..
- Enter it in column 1 of the last page? But I'm working on it now...
- Not enter it, unless there's still things to be done after the phone call?

April 27, 2018 at 3:29 | Unregistered CommenterDan Mundy

Health warning: it's been a while since I looked at SF. all Mark's systems are about how you choose what to do next. Where there is no choice, I wouldn't enter it in the system at all. If as a result of the call, you have to do some separate research, escalate a crisis or generally take tasks which can be mixed in with other work, I'd enter those tasks.

This doesn't address your main question, I'm afraid. I'd be inclined to mark the project task as in progress and come back to it, but I can't recall whether this is correct.
April 27, 2018 at 11:49 | Registered CommenterWill

Basically I agree with Will. Since Help Desk tasks usually have to be done immediately, there's really no point in putting them on the list at all.

What to do with the project task? Leave it with a dot against it and not crossed out. When you've finished with the Help Desk task(s) just come back to it.

What to do with task(s) generated by the phone call:

If possible, do them straight off without entering them on the list

If you need to get back to your project, enter the tasks in column 2.

If the tasks are not urgent, enter them at the end of the list.

The more tasks you can do straight off, the better. If you find a task is generating sub-tasks then use a separate piece of paper to keep track of them.
April 27, 2018 at 19:18 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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