Climb past what’s important to discover what’s crucial in your life

When taking on the project of improving your productivity, you’ll undoubtedly come across two words that go hand-in-hand with the practice: important and urgent. These two words often intertwine depending on what your priorities are and how well you’re keeping up with what you’ve got on the go.

Knowing what the difference between important and urgent is a challenge for many, but once you’ve been doing it for a while it gets easier. It may not get easier to get the important stuff done before it turns into something urgent, but that’s a whole other matter. Another challenge is to remember that this is your time being spent, whether it is on a project or a task. How you plot out what each tasks means to you and to your time is worthy of strong consideration because if you simply jot things down without contemplating how they’ll be impacted by the time you have to offer and how they’ll impact the time you have to have available, you’ll end up in a state of overwhelm — and a very long to-do list.

Categorizing the levels of importance and urgency is another necessity. There’s no definitive way to organize these thoughts, but a common method is to use Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrant Matrix.

Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants

Covey’s matrix is still a resource for many who are trying to decide how and where to spend their time. But considering that it appeared in the book First Things First back in 1994, back when time management and productivity strategies didn’t have the benefit (or informational overflow) of the Internet, it could use a retooling. That may sound bold, but while the idea of Covey’s matrix still has some merit, the problem lies in the words used in the matrix itself.

The Problem with Important

The problem with important these days is that it is thrown around with little regard to what it means. In fact, it’s used so much that the word itself doesn’t seem to be as, well, important as it once was. Things that are important often are just things that have to get done, but have little resonance beyond that – they aren’t attached to anything deeper or more meaningful in the greater scheme of things. Anything with the word urgent attached to it will always feel stronger because of the need for it to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Even in passing, when someone says the word “urgent”, it creates a feeling or sense of immediacy. Unless someone is looking you straight in the eye, is genuinely in the moment and says the word “important” can it even come close to having the impact intended. The only way it gets closer is if you feel that what they are attaching to the word important to is actually important to you as well.

The word crucial, however, doesn’t get thrown around as much. Better still, when someone uses the word in the same manner as they used important as mentioned above, the ability to feel how much it matters to them all the more. When something is said to be crucial, it means that it is “of great importance” by definition alone. It’s possible that the other manner is which the word crucial is used – decisive or critical, especially in the success or failure of something: i.e. negotiations were at a crucial stage – adds instant power to the word it wouldn’t otherwise have, but the effects are still the same. When something is said to be crucial, you know it’s important. When something is said to be important, well…results may vary.

The key to really doing what matters on an overall scale – using David Allen’s Horizons of Focus as a measuring stick – you need to first earn to separate the urgent from the important and then curate what’s important to what’s crucial. Everything you do should lead to the great goal of what is crucial to you living a happy life. The amount of things that need to be done that are urgent should be minimal, because they generally serve to keep you occupied from what’s crucial to your overall goals in life. The amount of things that are important should be examined to separate what is important over the short term versus the long term. You may find that what you thought was important really isn’t at all. Often, these things are just things that will become urgent if you let them slide for too long, but they aren’t of any overarching importance. It’s those things that are crucial to you getting to where you want to be that will define your outcomes far great than anything else you do. You need to be clear on those so that you can map out how you’re going to achieve your goals – and your dreams.

A New Productivity Paradigm

Covey’s matrix with a “Crucial Cube” inserted

Rather than use a quadrant to look at how to measure your actions and projects going forward, I suggest you do what I’ve done, and place a box in the dead center of the diagram. It’s what I call a Crucial Cube.

Sure, it isn’t exactly a cube (but Crucial Square doesn’t sound as appealing), but by adding it to the diagram the focus shifts to what’s crucial to you overall rather than what isn’t. Placing it in the centre draws focus, allows you to start there and finish on the outer realms or vice versa. The key is it gets you looking at what you really want to achieve and still displays the supporting things you can do to get there. The Crucial Cube feeds off of the remaining quadrants and the quadrants are fueled by what’s in the Crucial Cube.

Getting clear on what’s crucial is the most beneficial thing you can do to enhance your productivity, your balance and your life. Doing so could be the productivity wake-up call you need, the jumpstart to getting where you know you can be – and want to be. Moving beyond the word “important” and making a conscious choice to use the word “crucial” instead will power up your life in a simple, yet profound way.

The Crucial Takeaway

Adopting a new habit is never easy, but with focus and perseverance, it can happen a lot faster. Take some time to really look at how you’re managing your time and your life, as well as what words you’re using in the process.

  • Understand urgency and how to deal with it.
  • Investigate importance so that you can separate what is from what isn’t, bringing power back to the word by doing so.
  • Cultivate what is crucial and you’ll enhance your life.

Give the diagram above a try. Write down what you feel is crucial to (and for) you inside a Crucial Cube. Then build the matrix around that, allowing the items inside to feed off the cube’s contents and vice versa. Let me know how it worked for you in the comments.

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