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How to fight the "urgency bias" (and work towards long-term goals)

https://blog.rescuetime.com/fighting-the-urgency-bias/

blog.rescuetime.com

How to fight the "urgency bias" (and work towards long-term goals)
How do you learn to balance your need to make progress on long-term goals with your need to be available and tackle “urgent” tasks?

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The urgency bias

The urgency bias

We usually give priority to unimportant tasks when there is a sense of urgency around them.

We’re actually psychologically wired to put aside important tasks in favor of tasks that feel more urgent. But spending our time taking care of urgent tasks can leave us feeling exhausted and unaccomplished.

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Why it’s hard to ignore urgent tasks

A few explanations as to why it’s so hard to reject urgent tasks:

  • The completion bias. Our brains crave the reward we get from checking off small to-dos from our list.
  • Tunnel vision: When we get overwhelmed by the things we have to do, we choose to act on those most available to us; these are usually emails, calls, meetings, and other low-friction tasks.

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Urgency puts us into reactive mode

The problem is that we’re continually bombarded with urgent work: emails, meetings, calls, and instead of being in control of our time and attention, we respond and act on someone else’s priorities.

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Deep attention vs. hyper attention

  • Deep attention means putting our focus on one task for a long period of time and putting aside other external interruptions.
  • Hyper attention is turning our focus swiftly between different tasks, opting for diverse information streams, and looking for a constant high-level of stimulation.

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Make the urgency bias work for you

  • Break your big projects down into simple manageable steps and then set a short deadline for each.
  • Switch from “task urgency” to “time urgency” , to choose what really deserves your attention.
  • Don’t let urgent tasks control the first hour of your day. Set aside blocks of time for emails and meetings so they don’t sneak into your focused time.

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Urgent tasks will always come up

Instead of allowing them to take over your time, make a plan for how you’ll deal with them.

Begin by defining the tasks that demand 100% of your focus and the ones that can be dealt with while being interrupted. You want to give your most focused hours to your most important tasks.

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Things worth prioritizing in life

There are some general areas that all of us should prioritize in order to function well and generally make life worthwhile. These areas are:

  • Health and fitness. Bad health and fitness habits add up over time and have a knock-on effect in other areas of our lives.
  • Sleep and rest. Inadequate sleep leads to unstable emotions, impaired learning, imbalanced hormones and a compromised cardiovascular system.
  • Friends, family, and relationships. It's hard to mend relationships once they've been frayed. Be proactive about being the connector and decide beforehand what you won't miss out on.
  • Productive work. Instead of working harder, we should work smarter (more strategically.)

Things to deprioritize

Intentionally take your focus away from distracting areas in your life.

  • Social media and entertainment. While they can add fun to our days, it's worth reducing how much time we spend on apps.
  • Busy work. These are tasks we do regularly but that fail to move us forward. These tasks should be delegated, automated, limited, or deleted.
  • Negativity. When we focus on the negative, we are prevented from seeing reality clearly. It is then important to be aware of your inner thoughts. Maintain a running record of positive things people say about you.

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Make planning a habit

Make planning a habit

Some mornings we feel motivated to create a to-do list, but that is often the exception. We need to get things done, even when we feel disengaged.

Start by setting ...

Align your to-do list with goals

  1. Break down your big goals into daily tasks. You can't add "Get in shape" to your daily to-do list, but you can add "spend 30 minutes on my bike."
  2. Consider your week as a whole. You likely have multiple goals. Some goals benefit from daily activity, while working towards others a few times a week can create momentum.
  3. Add your have-to-do tasks last. We often fill our to-do lists with have-to-do tasks that crowd the whole day. Adding it last forces you to fit your have-to-do tasks around your goal tasks.

Have one daily priority

Many of us start our mornings with dozens of things we need to get done, but later realize that we haven't crossed any of them off our lists. We did get stuff done, but none of the things we planned.

A balm against hectic days that pass without progress is to choose a single activity to prioritize and protect in your calendar. If you struggle to select your top priority, ask yourself, when you look back on your day, what do you want the highlight to be? That's your priority.

Oliver Emberton
"The secret to mastering your time is to systematically focus on importance and suppress urgency."

Oliver Emberton

Important vs. urgent tasks

  • Important tasks are things that contribute to your long-term mission, values, and goals.
  • Urgent tasks are tasks that have to be dealt with immediately: phone calls, urgent deadlines, and situations where you have to respond quickly.

Sometimes important tasks stare you right in the face, but you neglect them and respond to urgent but unimportant things.

Don't be available all the time

Time, not money, is your most valuable asset. Invest your asset:

  • Allocate time to each task you need to get done every day. 
  • Each task of the day should be attainable, realistic, and time-bound. And it should advance your goals for the day, week or month.
  • Don't get distracted by everything others expect you to do.