A Struggle for Productivity – Important vs Urgent

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I’m sitting here at my local coffee shop — struggling.

I had to close the Chrome tab with my Gmail, two tabs actually, one for each email account.

I planned on writing a bunch but my habit of checking and sending emails is strong. Closing the tab was the only way.

That little banner incrementing every time I get an email is exciting yet stressful.

The notification of new emails feels so urgent.

The emails are usually not important, though — more on that later.

Then, there’s the result of replying to emails that makes me sick. If you send out emails, you get MORE BACK.

In my old corporate days, the replies were fierce…the worst to get back: “Thanks.” Sure it’s polite and all, but getting 10 emails extra a day that say “Thanks” is just unnecessary.

A lot of days look like this for me…a struggle to be productive.

But in the last 6 weeks I’ve been able to do the following:

  • Launch a premium course
  • Hire & train 6 virtual assistants (VAs)
  • Add 10s of THOUSANDS of words to a niche site
  • Publish several YouTube videos & grow the number of subscribers

Yet I don’t have the perfect morning routine. I wake up and check my email right away, I look at my Skype chats, and watch some Instagram stories that my friends published overnight. I do all the things that you’re NOT supposed to do.

We all have 24 hours a day so why do some people get so much more done than others?

That’s what we’ll be looking at…

Let me tell you about a day back in 2016. It could have been just about any day…

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Answering Emails

I sat down at my desk and started answering emails. I’m not sure why other than I had 16 unread emails in my inbox and there were 30 other emails that I really just ignored before.

Ninety minutes later I had cleared my inbox to 2 emails! I felt drained but look what I accomplished!


Next, I read a few blog posts about coming up with titles for blog posts and another about copywriting.

I felt good about what I read, thinking “Hey, that makes sense! I understand what I can do…”

While I felt busy that day, I really didn’t get much done. I was busy but didn’t accomplish anything meaningful. It was just busy work – metaphorically shuffling papers. Sending emails rarely move the needle.

Learning from blog posts and podcasts is great, of course, and courses are even better. I’ve spent over $7,000 on premium online courses in the last 18 months.

A well-written blog post can be good if you learn something and implement it. It also has to be something you actually need to do. I’ve definitely read a blog post or two and it was so convincing that I implemented something that I didn’t need to do in the first place! (Like create a Periscope profile and start scoping – total waste of time.)

The whole idea here is that you need to be able to complete the work that gets you closer to your goal. (Well crafted goals are another topic that I’ll tell you about next week.)

It’s so much more important to work on the right things to be effective than to complete work quickly.

Efficiency is the ability to do work fast. And if you’re able to do work fast that isn’t getting you closer to your goals, who cares. It’s not really helpful if you’re not accomplishing your goals or at least getting closer to them.

If you want to do something interesting — accomplish something big — then you need to do the right things to reach your goals. The speed and efficiency aren’t very important. I know everyone is in a hurry, but when you focus on speed, you start making compromises. Those compromises can be bad for the long-term vision.

Be sure to do something…

Each of these productivity posts will have an exercise to do or a thing you can implement.

It’s super important to try this stuff — execution is the most important part.

So try it.

Use it.

Adapt the ideas to suit you and your style.

Urgent versus Important

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

-Dwight Eisenhower

This matrix will change how you look at tasks. It’s called the “Eisenhower Matrix”.

Eisenhower was the 34th president of the US and was super productive.

  • He served 2 terms as President.
  • He was a General.
  • He was the president of Columbia University.
  • He was Supreme Commander of NATO.

Eisenhower is given credit for this time management method since he said that really cool quote above.

You can think of the Eisenhower Matrix as the Urgent vs Important Matrix.

Urgent tasks are things that you react to, such as:

  • Phone calls
  • Emails
  • Alerts on your phone
  • News stories

Important tasks are things that contribute to your goals, long and short-term, such as:

  • Working out and exercising
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Keep in touch with family and friends
  • Developing long-term business goals

So what do we do with the matrix?

Let’s look at each quadrant to understand what’s going on and what to do.

Not Urgent, Not Important – DELETE

The first thing to do is think about what to eliminate – The Not Urgent and Not Important. That’s a no-brainer.

These might be things like binge-watching a show, reading Wikipedia entries on your favorite celebrities or checking your Facebook or Instagram feed.

Don’t do these when you’re trying to be productive. They can be fun, and even necessary to decompress after a stressful day, but they’re generally a waste of time.

Getting rid of the non-urgent and non-important tasks and you’ll be in great shape. Your mind will be free of the mental load of even thinking about doing these tasks.

Urgent, Important – Do These FIRST

These are Important and Urgent tasks. If you have a fire in your home, that is something that you will do something about immediately.

In a corporate scenario, this is like your boss asking you to do a task and have it ready by first thing tomorrow. It’s critical and you know it.

It’s easy to see these need to be done. You may get distracted by quadrant 3 so watch out for that one.

If you do the Important and Urgent tasks each day, then you’ll be making a huge amount of progress in reaching your goals.

Not Urgent, Important – SCHEDULE These Tasks

These are the things that will really get you. Quadrant 2 is home to the Important but not Urgent tasks. They get me sometimes. Why?

Well, you can put off these tasks day after day. And, it doesn’t matter too much from day to day.

However, at some point, a task moves from quadrant 2 to quadrant 1 — Urgent and Important — like a fire!

Here is an example:

      • Your mortgage payment 20 days out. Important but not Urgent.
    • Your mortgage payment is due today. Now it’s Important and Urgent.

Important tasks help you reach your goals and if you do them you get closer to success. Most goals don’t happen overnight but require small efforts consistently, sometimes day after day.

If you fail to do the important things each day, then all of a sudden you’ll realize that you can’t reach your goal.

Here is an example:

  • You want to run a half marathon in 6 months.
  • You need to follow a plan to increase your mileage each week, and it’s usually a small increase like 5-10% a week. Small enough that you won’t actually notice.
  • You’ll be able to reach your goal to run the half marathon if you show up every week and run your mileage.
  • But if you skip too many workouts, you can’t cram more training in at the end. You can’t run a lot the week before and expect that you’ll be able to run in the race.
  • ALL the training is Important, but no single workout was actually Urgent.

Important and not Urgent will get you when you don’t do them.

In the corporate world, it might be failing to do the “extra work” to get a great review or promotion.

If you’re trying to build an online income, failing to send out emails to the network in your niche could be your downfall.

Or, you may keep putting off reviewing your long-term goals when developing a plan to do them.

The remedy is to actually schedule the time to do the Important work.

Run when you should, do the “extra work”, or send the emails to meet people in your niche.

The 2nd quadrant is often overshadowed by the third…

Urgent, Not Important – Delegate or BATCH

The 3rd quadrant is a problem.

It’s Urgent, but those tasks are not getting you closer to your goal. Sorting out your inbox and replying to emails is in this category. You sit and click away at your most and keyboard endlessly but it’s the classic scenario of working several hours but feeling like you have nothing to show for it.

If you have a way to delegate these tasks, do it. Most of us don’t have a staff, a personal assistant, or a virtual assistant (VA). If you do, then these tasks are great to hand off.

If you don’t have a way to delegate, then you can batch these tasks. That means do a chunk of similar or repetitive tasks all at once.

This is what I do. For example:

  • Answer emails with questions from Niche Site Project readers. I can do these quickly and set aside a block of time to work on them. If I answered the emails as I received them I would get interrupted all the time.
  • Approve and review comments on my websites. Again, I can process things fast if I’m doing something that’s repetitive.
  • Let’s think about a cooking scenario. I will cut, chop, and dice vegetables and herbs for a meal all at once. It makes sense since I have out the equipment that I need.

Your Action Items

This week determine your urgent and important tasks.

Review the tasks that you’d normally work on so you can just evaluate the merits of each task in your day.

Keep notes on it and write where it fits in the matrix. Start working on, eliminating, scheduling, and batching your tasks.

I like to use a paper notebook, but if you like a digital format, that’s cool, too. I use Workflowy and Trello for other things. You can even use the Notes app on your smartphone.

Interested in improving your productivity?

Check out the Productivity Masterclass to kickstart your progress.

Learn More

About the author: Doug Cunnington is the founder of Niche Site Project. He shows people how to create Affiliate Sites using project management and a proven, repeatable framework. Doug loves creating systems, using templates, and brewing beer (but usually not at the same time).

6 comments… add one
  • Adrian Bulibasa

    Doug, I loved the article and I loved the Eisenhower model of how to organise yourself and be productive.

    I for one, I’m using a diary where I can put my tasks or ideas in order. Many times I don’t end up doing them … sometimes because I was distracted, other times lack of inspiration or simply things didn’t go according to my plan, but I put them again on the “TO DO” list for the next day.

    I’ve discovered a guy on youtube a few years back and I remember untill now his phrase:” if you want to be succesful in your life … go and buy a diary” ? It might not sound very smart, but it was in the context. He was saying that people who are succesful … they have an agenda !

    Because they can organize themselfs by writing down what it needs to be done for the next hour, day, week, month, year.

    And since then, I’ve experienced that by having an agenda … I am much more productive !?

  • Oliver

    Hey Doug,

    thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights on “Productivity – Important vs Urgent” – a super important…;-) topic. At the beginning of my independency I always tended to do urgent and less important tasks first. Quasi in preparation for the important tasks… 🙂 – today I am better at it.

    I think productivity is still on of the most underestimated skills, especially for internet or affiliate marketers that start out.

    I’m looking forward to our content on this,

  • Ellen Doherty

    Hello Doug,
    I really need this advice right now.
    At the beginning of this year I was enthusiastic and making progress.
    Now I have completely lost my focus and I need to get back to making real plans.
    Thanks, Ellen

  • Francis

    Hey Doug,

    Great piece of content here as usual. You know you got a Puerto Rican fan following you brother. Ey, I think you’ll also enjoy “Deep Work” by Carl Newport if you haven’t read it.

    Regards mate and ey..DON’T get distracted by this one!


  • Agnes

    Ho Doug,
    The struggle is real! Sometimes I start doing something like writing content and then get distracted halfway through…not even halfway, I think quarter way haha…
    I’ll try to follow your advice. Thank you very much for sharing. I love reading your posts.


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