Read Time: 1 minute, 30 seconds
Do Time: Longer
Bonus: A little process to help get organized

When you’re up to your ass in alligators,
it’s easy to forget that you came to drain the swamp

Each year I look forward to the ‘pause and reflect’ time around the New Year. Like most, I think about what I want to accomplish in upcoming year and make a list. Then I read it over. This year my list is terrible. 

My list is full of alligators – task-oriented things, check-the-box things, tactical things-urgent things.  Way at the bottom, I found my goals- the important things. 

I admit that it is not my first time at the urgent vs. important rodeo. Many of my TO DO lists are top heavy with urgent things – possibly your lists are similar. 

What’s the real difference between Urgent and Important?

Urgent – Tasks that have immediate consequences. Often connected to achieving the goals of someone else (supervisor, department)

Important – Undertakings (tasks or activities) that lead toward achievement of  personal/professional goals 

Here’s a 2-Step Plan for Shifting From ‘Urgent’ Toward ‘Important’


Step 1: Set and Track Goals
 (your long-term plan)


  • Decide what you would like to accomplish
  • Estimate a time frame
  • Determine the activities that are needed
  • Understand what you will need to learn or do to accomplish the activities


Sample logic model (with an example) to organize and track goals

2016 Goal (example): Promotion from Vice President to Sr. Vice President

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 12.39.57 PM

Inputs: Current circumstances and/or what is needed to accomplish goal

Activities: Tasks that lead toward goal

Indicators:  Activities, responses or circumstances that indicate movement toward or away from goal

Influencing Factors: Outside forces that positively or negatively affect goal

Modify: Changes to be made based upon the outputs of activities and influencing factors

Outcome: Change in behavior or circumstances that result in achieving goal


Step 2: Write a New TO DO List
 (better tactics)

Now that you have your goals, revise your TO DO list.

This TO DO list format will help free up time to work on long- range goals

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 12.41.57 PM

Urgent vs. Important:

  1. Important and Urgent (addresses both your goals and goals of others)
  2. Important but Not Urgent (addresses your goals only)
  3. Not Important but Urgent (addresses goals of others)
  4.  Not Important and Not Urgent (busy work-delegate this!)*
    *(Thanks to Mind Tools for direction with this list)

(Note: Urgent vs. important as an organizing principle is not a new idea. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower commented beautifully on this in his address to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”) 

Feel free to share with your goal oriented, list making friends

Wishing you success and happiness
in the year ahead!

January Event:
Thinking about a new career path in 2016?  
If you or someone you know is considering transitioning into the nonprofit sector,
join my Foundation Center webinar

‘Time for a Career Switch? Transitioning to the Nonprofit Sector’
January 21, 2016 from 2-3PM (EST).
Register Here: Foundation Center Webinar Registration Link