Tag Archives: Productivity

How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life

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

Many spend all their time managing crises.

Their life is basically spent putting out one proverbial fire after another. At the end of the day they feel completely sapped and drained of energy, and yet cannot point to anything they accomplished of real significance. They confuse the urgent with the important.

The Difference Between Urgent and Important

An “Urgent” task is one that requires your immediate attention. These are the tasks that shout “Do It Now!” Urgent tasks put you in a reactive mode, a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly focused mindset.

An “Important” task is something that is to be done that contributes to your long-term mission, values, and goals. While they may sometimes be, typically, important tasks are not urgent. When you focus on important activities you operate in a responsive mode that helps you remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities.

As a result of all these modern stimulus-producing technologies such as 24-hour News, Twitter, Facebook, social media and text messaging technologies process all information as equally urgent and pressing, you tend to believe that all urgent activities are important. These modern news and social media stimulus-producing technologies constantly assault you with information that only heighten your deeply engrained mindset that is: to believe that all urgent activities are also important.

As a result, you are experiencing “present shock”, a condition in which “you live in a continuous, always-on ‘Now!!’” and lose your sense of long-term narrative and direction. In such a state, it is easy to lose sight of the distinction between the truly important and the merely urgent and the consequences of this priority-blindness are both personal and societal. In your own lives, you suffer from burnout and stagnation and, on a societal level, we are unable to solve the truly important problems of our time.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army. He served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany. Along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had this incredible ability to sustain his productivity for weeks, months and decades. His most famous productivity strategy is known as “The Eisenhower Box” or “The Eisenhower Matrix”, a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now to empower yourself and make real progress on your life.

The matrix consists of a square divided into four boxes, or quadrants, labeled as follow:

1) Urgent/Important;

2) Not Urgent/Important;

3) Urgent/Not Important, and

4) Not Urgent/Not Important.

Quadrant 1: “Urgent and Important” Tasks

“Tasks that are both urgent and important require our immediate attention and also work towards fulfilling our long-term goals and missions in life.”

This is the “Do It Now!” box

“Urgent and Important” tasks typically consist of crises, problems, or deadlines. A few specific examples of Urgent and Important tasks would be:

  • Certain emails such as a job offer, an email for a new business opportunity that requires immediate action, etc.;
  • A term paper deadline;
  • A Tax deadline;
  • A member of your family in an hospital ICU;
  • Your car engine giving out;
  • Household chores;
  • A heart attack and ending up in the hospital;
  • A call from your kid’s principal saying you need to come in for a meeting about his behavior.

With a bit of planning and organization, many of these Quadrant 1 tasks can be made more efficient or even eliminated outright. For example, instead of waiting until the last minute to work on your term paper, thus turning it into an urgent task, you could schedule your time so that you will be done with your paper a week in advance. Or, instead of waiting for something in your house to need fixing or fall apart, you can implement and follow a schedule of regular maintenance.

While you will never be able to completely eliminate urgent and important tasks, with a bit of imagination and proactivity you can significantly reduce them by spending more time in Quadrant 2.

Quadrant 2: “Not Urgent but Important” Tasks

Tasks that are “Not Urgent bur Important” are these activities that do not have a pressing deadline, but nonetheless help you achieve your important personal, school, and work goals as well as help you fulfill your overall mission in life.

This is the “Schedule It!” box.

The “Not Urgent but Important” tasks are typically centered around strengthening relationships, planning for the future, and improving yourself.

A few specific examples of Not Urgent but Important Tasks would be:

  • Weekly planning;
  • Long-term planning;
  • Exercising;
  • Family time;
  • Taking a class to improve a skill;
  • Spending time with a rewarding hobby;
  • Car and home maintenance;
  • Creating a budget and savings plan.

Always seek to spend most of your time on “Not Urgent but Important” activities. They are the ones that will provide you lasting happiness, fulfillment and success. Unfortunately for many, there are two key challenges that will tend to keep you from investing enough time and energy into these activities:

  • First: “You don’t know what’s truly important to you.” If you do not have any idea what values and goals matter most to you, you obviously will not know what things you should be spending your time on to reach those aims! Instead, you will latch on to whatever stimuli and to-dos are most urgent.
  • Second: “Present bias.” For most of us, we are all inclined to focus on whatever is most pressing at the moment. Doing so is our default mode. It is hard to get motivated to do something when there is not a deadline pending over our head. Departing from this fallback position takes willpower and self-discipline. Cultivate these qualities. They hat do not come naturally. Do whatever you have to do to develop this mental toughness and discipline that you may be lacking of.

Because “Not Urgent but Important” activities are not pressing for your attention, you typically keep them forever on the back-burner of your lives and tell yourselves, “I will get to those things “Someday”. You even put off figuring out what is most important in your life and life in general.

But “Someday” will never come.

If you are waiting to do the important thinks until your schedule clears up, trust me when I say that it will never happen, that you are daydreaming. Whatever happens in your life, you will always feel about as busy as you are now, and if anything, life just gets busier as you get older.

To overcome our inherent present-bias that prevents us from focusing on “Not urgent and Important” activities, you must live your lives intentionally and proactively. You cannot run your life in default mode. You have to consciously decide, “I am going to make time for these things”.

Quadrant 3: “Urgent and Not Important” Tasks

“Urgent and Not Important” tasks are activities that require your attention now, but do not help you achieve your goals or fulfill your mission in life. Most “Urgent and Not Important” tasks are interruptions originating from other people and often involve helping them meet their own goals and fulfill their own priorities.

This is the “Delegate Me!” box.

Here are some specific examples of “Urgent and Not Important”  activities:

  • Most phone calls;
  • Most text messages;
  • Most emails, those that are not “Urgent and Important”;
  • Co-worker who comes by your desk during your prime working time to ask a favor;
  • Request from a former employee to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf;
  • Your mom drops in unannounced and wants your help with a chore.

Many people spend most of their time on “Urgent and Not Important” tasks, while thinking they are working on “Urgent and Important” tasks.

While “Urgent and Important” tasks may be important to others, they are not important to you. They’re not necessarily bad, but they need to be balanced with your “Not Urgent but Important” activities. Otherwise, you will end up feeling like you are getting a lot done from day-to-day, while eventually realizing that you’re not actually making any progress in your own long-term goals. This is the perfect recipe for personal frustration and resentment towards others.

The solution to this problem is simple: Become more assertive and start to politely but firmly say “No!” to most requests.

Quadrant 4: “Not Urgent and Not Important” Tasks

“Not Urgent and Not Important” are these activities that, other than if they serve a specific professional or business purpose, unnecessary. These are the activities that are not helping you achieve or resolve anything. They are neither pressing nor do they help you achieve long-term goals or fulfill your mission in live. They are primarily, simply and utterly, mainly distractions.

This is the “Do Me later!”, the “Do Not Do It!” box.

Specific examples of such mostly useless tasks include:

  • Watching TV;
  • Mindlessly surfing the web;
  • Playing video games;
  • Scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram;
  • Gambling;
  • Shopping sprees.

If we were to conduct a time audit on ourselves, most of us would find that we spend an inordinate amount of time on “Not Urgent and Not Important” activities.

As a pragmatist, I do not think you need to eliminate “Not Urgent and Not Important” activities altogether from your life. After a particularly hectic and busy day, randomly browsing the internet or watching a favorite TV show for a half hour is exactly what my brain needs to decompress.

Instead of aiming to completely rid yourself of “Not Urgent and Not Important” tasks, try to only 5% or less of your waking hours on them.

Be Like Ike; Spend More Time on Important Tasks

In our present shock world, the ability to filter the signal from the noise, or distinguish between what is urgent and what is truly important, is an essential skill to develop. When faced with a decision, stop and ask yourself, “Am I doing this because it is important or am I doing it because it is merely urgent?”

As you will spend most of your time working on “Not Urgent but Important tasks”, you will feel a renewed sense of calm, control, and composure in your life. You will feel like you are making real progress. By investing your time in “Not Urgent but Important” planning/organizing activities, you will prevent and eliminate many of the crises and problems of “Urgent and Important” tasks, balance the requests of “Urgent and Not Important” tasks with your own needs, and truly enjoy the veg-outs of “Not Urgent and Not Important” activities, knowing that you have earned the rest. By making “Not Urgent but Important” tasks your top priority, no matter the emergency, annoyance, or deadline you will be hit with, you will have the mental, emotional, and physical wherewithal to respond positively, rather than react defensively.


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  1. J. Michael Dennis is a former attorney, a Trial Scientist, a Crisis & Reputation Management Expert, a Public Affairs & Corporate Communications Specialist, a Warrior for Common Sense and Free Speech.

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Stop spending most of your productive time attending to other people’s priorities.

Not planning your week is bad. Planning your week without taking your personal priorities in consideration is even worse. It means you will be able to handle everything “on your plate” but you won’t actually make any progress towards your own goals. Stop spending most of your productive time attending to other people’s priorities.

Your main priorities shall be everything about YOU and YOUR goals. Unless you proactively block time for them and consistently choose to prioritize them, you are in a reactive state where you are only following everyone else’s priorities.

Have you heard of the Eisenhower or Urgent vs. Important Matrix?

It is a really powerful tool that can multiply your effectiveness tenfold. It consists of 4 quadrants that classify your daily activities according to two parameters: level of urgency and level of importance.

For most people it looks like this:

You want to be productive! Spend 80% of your time in quadrant II of the Matrix.

This will allow you to pro-actively work on new opportunities and high-leverage projects instead of spending all your time reacting to pressing issues and other people’s needs. As a result, you will be able to make significant progress towards your goals, actively prevent crisis from happening and lead a more balanced, calm and focused life.

Prioritize all your actions according to YOUR GOALS.

Which actions and projects to prioritize should be based on what is working and beneficial towards achieving your goals and not what you feel like doing.


Michael Dennis is a former Corporate and Business Law Attorney, a Crisis & Reputation Management Expert, a Public Affairs & Corporate Communications Specialist, a Warrior for Common Sense & Free Speech helping you achieve greatness.

Follow JMDlive on:

Twitter, Facebook,, The Futurist Daily News,,, Pinterest and Tumblr.


Book a FREE 15 minutes Skype Consultation with JMDlive

Small things, if not corrected, always become big things. For better or worse, even seemingly inconsequential aspects of our lives can create ripples and waves of consequence.

Is your life off-course?

What feedback are you receiving to correct your course?

How often do you check your guidance system?

Do you even have a guidance system?

Where is your destination?

When are you going to get there?

Are you currently off-course?

If your answer to the last question is “YES”, here is what you have to do to get back on-course, to minimize the actual turbulences and other conditions distracting you from your intended path and final destination

  1. Organize Your Life

Life is busy. It is difficult to keep everything organized and tidy. And maybe you do not want to have an organized life. But moving forward, like it or not, requires a minimum of discipline and organization. Everything in life is energy and moving forward requires far less energy if you remove all unnecessary aggravation and tension from your life.

In life, there are some important, and urgent things and most people will spend their entire life prioritizing insubstantial activities such as answering emails, putting out proverbial fires, and just day-to-day stuff. Very few people organize their lives prioritizing almost exclusively truly important urgent activities and issues relevant to their health [either mental or physical], and personal lifetime rewarding achievement.

No one should care about your success more than yourself. If you are not a meticulous enough or do not care about proper planning of the important details of your life, then you are not responsible enough to get or to become what you say you want to get or become.

You want to reach your final destination? You want to be a winner instead of a loser? You have to manage your time and organize your life!

Manage your environment

Does your environment facilitate the emotions you consistently want to experience? Does your environment drain or improve your energy? If so, clean up your cluttered and messy living space.

Manage your finances

Do you have unnecessary debt? Do you know how much money you spend each month? Do you know how much money you make each month? Are you making as much money as you would like to make? Are you creating more value in other people’s lives? What is holding you back?

Most people do not track their expenses. But if they did, they would be shocked how much money they waste on stuff like eating out. Most people procrastinate and avoid as much as possible all administrative and logistical details about their life and, this lackluster behavior is holding them back from the very goals they are trying to accomplish.

You want to achieve your goals, whatever they may be, you have to hone in your finances; regardless of your actual income, you have to organize your life in such a way to maintain and develop and maintain a healthier financial living situation. Until you take complete responsibility of your finances, you will always be a slave to money.

Manage your relationships

Do you maintain toxic relationships that no longer serve you? Do you spend enough time nurturing the relationships that really matter? Like money, most people’s relationships are not organized in a conscious and conscientious manner. Today, with something so critical, all of us, including you, should take better stock of our relationships.

Manage your health

Does your body reflect your highest ideals? Is your body as strong and fit as you want it to be? Are you conscious of and in control of the foods you put in your body? Do you eat with the end in mind? Are you healthier now than you were three months ago?

Health is wealth. If you are sick, bed ridden or dying, who cares about how organized are the other areas of your life? Have a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, avoid foregoing sleep, over consuming stimulants and maintaining or developing poor eating habits.

Little things become big things. And eventually everything catches up.

Manage your “Inner Energy”

Do you have a sense of purpose in life? Have you come to terms with life and death in a way you resonate with? Have you truly living or simply existing? How much power do you have in designing your future?

When you organize your “Inner Energy”, you become clear on what your life is about. You become clear on what you stand for, and how you want to spend each day. You develop conviction for what really matters in live and what really matters to you: There is no more room for any kind of “distraction.”

No matter how well defined, everyone has a moral system governing their behavior. Most people believe in being honest and good people. But until you organize your life and live as your “Inner Energy “dictates you to conduct and live your life, you will always, inevitably and constantly experience internal conflicts.

Manage your time

Are the activities you spend your time doing moving you toward your ideal and preferred future? How much of your time do you feel in complete control of? Are you spending most of your time furthering someone else’s agenda? How much time do you waste each day?

Until you organize your time, it will disappear and move quickly. Before you know it, you will wonder where all the time went. Once you organize your time, it will slow down. You will be able to live more presently. You will be able to experience time as you want to. You will control you are time rather than the other way around.

Stop What You are Doing and Get Organized

If what you are doing is not working, stop doing it and, once and for all, get organized. The fastest way to move forward in life is not doing more or what you do; it starts with stopping the behaviors holding you back.

Getting organized and conscious of your present circumstances puts you in a position to finally build toward the preferred future you want. Stop your negative behaviors now and start implementing good ones. Constantly repeating what is not working for you will only always and invariably result in taking one step forward and one step backward.

If you want to get in shape or better health, the first thing to do before you start exercising, before doing anything else, is to purge the junk food from your diet.

Before focusing on making more money, reduce your spending. Detach yourself from needing more and become content with what you have. Until you do this, it does not matter how much money you make. You will always spend more than what you have.

Everything is a simple matter of stewardship

Rather than wanting more, it is key to take proper care of what you currently have. Organize yourself. Dial it in. Your life is like a garden. What good is planting if you do not have a fertile soil, if you do not prepare the soil and remove the weeds?

Why do most people stay stuck? Why do most people never achieve their goals? Why do most people never achieve success? They never organize. They simply try doing more of what they are doing and is not working.

My best possible advice: Before you “hustle,” get organized.

  1. Plan and Invest in “Your” Future

Even though the moment you decide you are worthy of it, you have complete power over the details of your life, very few people take the necessary time to consciously plan and design their life.

Are you worthy of that power or not?

You have to ask yourself this question and answer it right now, right this minute.

If your answer is “No”, do not bother to read this article any further; just stop complaining and enjoy your miserable life.

If your answer is “Yes”, I have to tell you that you are in for some real hard times. Your decision to plan and invest in “Your” future will result in tangible behaviors and difficult choices to make, decisions like fixing or eliminating troubled relationships from your life and saying “No” to some of your preferred activities that are nothing more than a waste of your time and immediate momentary gratification.

When you choose to forego momentary, you are investing in your future and most people fail to do this successfully. Most people do not purposefully invest in their finances, relationships, health, and time. But when you invest in yourself rather than immediate gratifications, your present moments will continue to get richer and more enjoyable, tremendously enhancing your chances to a guaranteed better future.

Thus, your life will continue getting better and more in line with your ideal vision every day.

  1. Tracking Important Metrics

Getting organized and investing in your future are futile if you are not tracking your progress. To be and to keep being the best in the world at what you do, you need to be on top of What is going on in your life. when behavior is tracked, and evaluated, your performance and productivity improve drastically. One impediment though, tracking is challenging. Tracking and monitoring your performance and progress requires discipline and most people quit doing it within a few days. The good part is that once you start monitoring and tracking, desired change happens quickly.

Track the things that are closely related to your core priorities and just remember this fundamental rule: If you have more than three priorities you have none. Keep your priorities to a minimum and start building your life around them, tracking and monitoring all your progress and actions toward your ultimate goal, your preferred future.

You can track whatever priorities you may have, either your key relationships, your business and finances, your health or how you use your time and once you do, your conscious awareness of these things will increase. Your ability to control these things will enhance. Your confidence will wax strong. And your life will become a lot more easier and simpler. You will be living a simple, yet organized and refined life.

Start monitoring and tracking your priorities now!

  1. Listening to your “Inner Voice” to Reduce Noise

There’s a lot of emphasis on hustle these days. But all the hustle in the wrong direction isn’t going to help you.

People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. This happens way too often; far too late do we realize that in our mad rush, we were pursuing someone else’s goals instead of our own.

Spending time listening to your “Inner Voice” for advice and clarification does more than provide clarity to what you are doing. This opens your mind up to possibilities you cannot see, perceive or get while keeping busy hustling.

Spending time looking for and listening to your “Inner Voice” brings you insights and enlightenment to guide you in whatever may be your endeavor. It will bring you clarity, ideas and concepts that may prove to be absolute gold and new insights regarding your actual personal or business relationships.

But there is more

Your ‘Inner Thoughts”, your “Inner Voice” is a source of incredible power. This is the “power Within”, the “Power Within You”. That “Power” actually governs not only your actions but the interactions that you have with people around you and their actions and reactions toward you. The way you interact with people around you impact their lives either in a positive or negative way.

If you think positively about the people you interact with, this actually makes a difference. In both, your life and their life. Your thoughts create endless waves and ripples of consequence all around you. If you maintain a positive attitude, interesting things will begin happening.

Your life will improve and everything that you will touch will turn to gold. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of miracles, you can think of it as “Bona Fortuna” or even luck. Whatever you want call it, when you spend large portions of time every day in deep reflection mode, good things start happening. Things happen for your benefit that are completely outside of your conscious mind or conscious control.

Tap into your “Inner Power” and you will unlock limitless possibilities. The only thing holding you back from those things is your mind.

  1. Moving Toward Your Goals Every Single Day

How many days go by where you did nothing to move toward your big goals?

If you do not purposefully carve time out every day to progress and improve, then without question, your time will get lost in the vacuum of our increasingly crowded lives. Before you know it, you will be wondering where all that time went.

Now that you got yourself organized, finalize your initial planning, that you are tracking your progress and listening to your Inner Voice, taking action and hustling shall have become instinctive and automatic. Focusing on the right thing and in the right frame of mind to actually execute them every single day shall be your daily modus operandi.

Keep doing it every day, first thing at the beginning of your day. This is the only way to get and to keep things done. If you do not, nothing will get done even though that by the end of your day, you will feel exhausted and fried. There will be a million reasons to just start over tomorrow and tomorrow will be the same: by the end of the day, nothing will get done.

Starting today your mantra shall be: The worst comes first. Do that thing, those things you have been needing to do and never did. Then do it again tomorrow and the day after. Do it every day for the rest of your life.

It is really easy to get off course in life and we constantly need to make course corrections. Follow my lead long enough and you will be shocked.

Just remember: “Tomorrow Starts Today!”


Owner of and King Global Earth and Environmental Sciences Corporation, JMD, a former attorney, is a Columnist for The Futurist Daily News and editor of the Social and Political Blog  Follow JMD @ jmdlive









“It is not the size of a man but the size of his heart that matters.”

—Evander Holyfield

What makes great? What are the principles that underlie mastery across fields and capabilities?

The principles below are universal and supported by both science and the experience of individuals who are on top of their respective fields.

1) Sleep!

Sleep is one of the most productive things you can do. Always make sure to have enough sleep time. Sleep deprivation is short-changing your physical, psychological, and emotional performance.

2) Physical activity

Physical activity is essential and integral to priming the mind for creative thinking and problem solving. Keep exercising on a daily basis. Have a walk, play golf, do something you like.

3) Seek out “Just-Manageable” challenges

The only way to grow is to step outside of your comfort zone. While your activities shouldn’t stress you, or make you anxious, they should leave you with a feeling of slight uncertainty. You grow from partaking in “just-manageable” challenges. Elevate your game.

4) Stress + Rest = Growth

The universal growth equation requires not only that you challenge yourself, but also that you take time to recover. Follow especially challenging activities with periods of recovery and recuperation. Physical Activity will help.

5) Cultivate purpose: Find a meaningful “why” for your work. Focus on something beyond yourself. Thinking less about yourself and more about others is one of the best ways to elevate your game.

6) Carefully design your day

Be as intentional as you can about when you do what you do. Don’t waste your peak hours on more or less useful activities such as browsing social media or answering email.

7) Surround yourself with only “Good People”

Avoid toxic people. Actively seek out successful high performers and do everything you can to work with them. The people with whom you spend your time have an enormous influence on your life. They most definitely shape your life.

8) Own your story and learn to say it well

Be constructive in the stories you tell yourself and others about yourself. We truly become our stories.

9)Respond” rather than “React”

Resist the urge to instantly react to everything thrown at you. Instead, take a deep-breath, evaluate the situation, and only then, thoughtfully and strategically respond. When the going gets tough, rather than panic, have a calm conversation: pause to separate yourself from whatever emotion you are feeling and only then move forward.

Just try this and tell me about it.


Owner of and King Global Earth and Environmental Sciences Corporation, JMD, a former attorney, is a Columnist for The Futurist Daily News and editor of the Social and Political Blog  Follow JMD @ jmdlive