How To Distinguish Between Important and Urgent Tasks

Here’s a common question that comes up during time management training, “What’s the difference between important and urgent tasks?”

Maybe you’ve seen tasks divided into four categories based on their importance and urgency before, and you may be wondering what it’s all about…

  • Category I    Tasks that are both important and urgent
  • Category II   Tasks that are important but not urgent
  • Category III  Tasks that are urgent but not important
  • Category IV   Tasks that are neither urgent nor important

First, let me give you a bit of background as to why this is relevant. A key principle in time management is that important things are not always urgent and urgent things are not always important. So you want to distinguish between importance and urgency when deciding what to do.

Do you remember the old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”? Well, urgent things tend to be very squeaky and they grab your attention.

If you aren’t careful, you can spend a lot of time dealing with urgent things, even when they are not very important, and end up not having enough time to deal with the important stuff that is not as urgent.

Productive people purposefully spend most of their time on important things, whether or not they are urgent.

By spending time on important items before they become urgent, they avoid many of the crises, problems, and “fires” that come up when you neglect important things for too long.

If you want to spend more of your time on important activities, you obviously have to be able to distinguish between important and unimportant tasks.

Here are five simple questions that can help you get started:

1. What are the benefits?

What are some of the benefits that you’ll receive from completing this task. The more important the benefits, the more important the task.

2. What would happen if I didn’t do this task?

Ask yourself what would be the consequences of delaying or ignoring this task. Important tasks tend to have serious consequences. So, if there are no consequences for ignoring this task, it may not be that important.

3. What am I ultimately trying to accomplish?

How does this task fit in with your current projects, goals, and objectives?

4. What’s the payoff for completing the task?

An important task tends to have a good payoff or return-on-investment for the time and effort you will put in to get it done.

5. Can I link it to my mission, vision, or goals?

Any task that contributes to your long-term goals in some way is bound to be important.

Using these 5 questions will help you decide whether a task is important or not. Then it’s just a matter of consciously choosing to spend more of your time on important projects and tasks.



  1. Time and Attendance monitoring in the workplace is essential as employees naturally seek to balance their work and family life.