The Urgency Effect & 3 Ways To Beat It

Just because something is urgent, that doesn’t make it important.

Don’t let the urgency effect waste your time!

The Urgency Effect Is…

Mistaking the urgent for the important.

People often focus on time spent, rather than the payoff.

What Drives It?

The payoff for significant tasks is typically far in the future and unclear.

Completion dates, however, are clear and easy to understand – something our brain likes!

As a result, we naturally focus too much on task deadlines and too little on task payoffs and end up spending time on lots of small, unimportant tasks – email!

We need to train ourselves to avoid small, deadline-driven tasks and focus more time on larger, more distant projects. 

How Do I Beat It?

These three methods will make sure you beat the Urgency Effect.

1. Essentialism / The Eisenhower Matrix

Essentialism says you should work out and focus on your highest-value activities by ranking tasks for importance ONLY and then doing the few essential tasks at the top of your list.

This means you aren’t just looking at how urgent a task is, only how important it is.

You focus on what will really make a difference.

If Essentialism sounds scary then the Eisenhower Matrix is a less strict version that helps you prioritise your tasks correctly.

2. Use Deadlines Right

If deadlines drive your focus, then use this to your advantage.

Give important but not urgent tasks short completion windows to force yourself to focus on them.

The more important the task, the nearer the deadline should be, to ensure you are prioritising correctly.

3. Timeboxing

This works well if you don’t have the luxury of shutting distractions out – for example, you are relatively junior and work as part of team and so expected to be responsive to other team members.

Separate out some time each day for low-value tasks.

For example, only open your email after 3 hours of work, so it doesn’t enter your mental priority list.

This will let you focus on important tasks and still allows you time to take care of some little things.

You can find a full implementation of timeboxing in this article.


The Urgency Effect will impact your productivity if you don’t learn to manage it.

The human brain may be amazing but it isn’t perfect.

Developing good time management habits allows you manage its shortcomings and focus on your most significant tasks.

About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training which he has been running for over 10 years.

He is a Natural Sciences graduate from the University of Cambridge and a qualified accountant with the ICAEW.

He previously worked as a venture capitalist and banker and so had extensive experience with Excel from building financial models before moving to learn SQL, Microsoft Power BI and other technologies more recently.