An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Urgent vs. important

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Sara Beyer
  • 375th Operations Support Squadron Commander
I am a person who hates clutter. Anyone who walks in my office will be surprised at the lack of items on my desk. I do, however, continuously have one piece of paper visible. It is an old, yellowed copy of a base paper article from several years ago.

Unfortunately I don't remember where I got it anymore, but I owe the author, Col. Mark Blum, commander 212th Field Artillery Brigade, a debt of gratitude. His article, "Important vs. Urgent," speaks to the importance of balance in your life. Defining the difference between those two words has been a source of guidance and reason to me on more than one occasion.

The word "important" has synonyms such as critical, significant, vital and essential. "Urgent" on the other hand is subtly different in its meaning: pressing, pleading, burning, demanding. Urgent appears important at the time but does not have as long lasting consequences. If you pull back a layer, urgent has a lower priority than important.
Understanding this distinction can help juggling competing demands on your time.

Everyone in the military is busy. With reduced resources and personnel, it is easy to lose balance in one's life. Maintaining an equilibrium between home commitments and work commitments is difficult. It is far too easy in our quest to accomplish every task to 100 percent and take part in every opportunity, to tip the balance scales away from family and focus on work. This isn't to say there aren't times when the people at home aren't going to be put on the back burner. Our profession asks for sacrifices from us and our families constantly. However, don't make the default setting to be the family is second. The decisions on priorities should be made consciously. That sounds simple, but it is deceptively easy to always choose the urgent work rather than the important event.

To make a conscious decision, a set of rules or guideline can be helpful. Colonel Blum identified three criteria for determining if an event is important.

1. It is important to someone who's important to you.

2. Your personal presence makes a difference; and

3. The opportunity is not going to come around again.

If those three conditions are satisfied, you have an idea what should be the priority.

The same event can be urgent and important at the same time. We deal with important projects constantly. Many of those projects, tasks and assignments have long-lasting implications and consequences. At the same time, there are instances when another, more personal, event may be of greater importance. A look at the three criteria helps to refocus on which events really need attention at that moment. The point is to realize those instances when home life, or personal time, must take a priority. The point is to distill what is urgent now from what is truly important.

With those thoughts, I'm going to head off to my daughter's basketball game. Yes there is urgent paperwork that still needs attention and the endless taskers won't stop, but this is her first game and she's starting, and she specifically asked me to come. Sounds pretty important to me.