Coaching your kids- Part VII: Priority and Urgency

When my life was simpler in the High School, I could remember many telephone numbers, class schedules and of course, what to do one which day at where. When my life gets more complex after going to a university, I started using 3M PostIt notes to remind me of important dates and tasks. As my life gets even more complex after marriage and kids, I just can’t live without my iCalendar, Reminders and Notes apps on my iPhone and Mac. A lot to do and sometimes I wonder whether my life could be simpler and easier. Well, at least I have managed my life well so far.

Have you used the “Stickies” app on your Mac before? This app has been there since early 90s! A hidden gem on your Mac.

In my coaching, I found that people’s life quality can sometimes be improved quickly by taking small actions. The most effective action I’ve discovered is to prepare a to-do list and use a calendar app to organise all things around or lives. While it’s not rocky science to use a calendar app, it’s quite remarkable to note that many people can’t distinguish the difference between priority and urgency.

A task can be a priority but not urgent, or vice versa. Sometimes, a task can be both urgent and also a priority. Confusing, right? Believe it or not, it’s actually a lot more confusing when you try to teach your kids about this difference. Let me give you some examples.

If your daughter has an exam coming up in two weeks, then preparing for such an exam will be a priority. She may also have a party to go next week so buying the right ‘outfit’ is also a priority for her. With her friend’s birthday coming in a few days, she also thinks that it’s a priority to search for a birthday gift for her best friend. While she is taking a bus home from a dance class after school, it becomes urgent to eat something because she is hungry. (By the way, teenagers are always hungry! I think you know that.) On her way home on the bus (while still hungry), she is planning how to finish a design homework that is due tomorrow. She knows that this design homework is urgent!

A to-do list can effectively improve your productivity.

So many tasks are given a ‘priority‘ tag and some have an ‘urgent‘ tag; some have both. When all items are put in a to-do list, then this young girl will need to know how to organise her life around these tasks, if she wants to cover everything in style. She needs to know that she should study for the exam tonight because it’s the top priority on the list, but having dinner is urgent because she is hungry. She should also know that searching for a birthday gift for her best friend on Amazon is a priority but not urgent and should be done only after studying for the exam. Going to the mall and try on a few dresses is a priority that should be organised for the coming weekend, because that’s the only time she has to visit a local shopping mall. So, go to the cinema with her friends on the weekend should happen after spending time on fitting her new dress for the upcoming birthday party.

Hmmm… complex, isn’t it?

For an adult, the most common situation is that there are people asking things from you and these emails come in ‘hot and urgent‘. However, they may not be priorities to your core jobs. If you keep meeting those urgent demands, then you will find that you cannot recall what you have done today because your time was filled with urgent but not critical tasks? Does this sound familiar? You’ve been busy for the whole day, but when you partner asked you “what did you do at work today?”, you just can’t remember! It’s often because you’ve been busy with urgent matters but not on your priority list.

Keep calm and have a cuppa. Focus on your priorities and keep urgent matters to Jarvis !

Tasks with priority should be considered when you have time to do it. Urgent matters will compete with priority tasks, but urgent matters should be done first only if they are also on high priority (such as finishing the design homework tonight so to submit tomorrow.) Master this skill will improve your work productivity and life quality. A small action but big impact!

Dr. C. Richard Wu @

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