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Monday
Mar212011

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 (1)

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

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