One of the first business lessons I learnt was about prioritising between urgent and important.

In a busy business there are 10 important things you should do every day, and yet you will only properly address 3 of them. Something has to give.

Of all the things you need to do, what are the important ones? What are the urgent ones? Are any both? Are any neither? If they’re neither, well that’s obvious. If the thing you need to do is urgent, but not important, you shouldn’t do it. You should delegate it or discount it altogether, but communicate to the would-be beneficiary the reason for your decision as early as you can so they’re not left in the lurch.

So that leaves you with the important things, and let’s assume for now you have all the important things on your list, including the things you’re avoiding, afraid of, or don’t want to do. While it makes loads of sense to break big things into smaller pieces in order to make progress, the temptation is to do the small important things first, to get them out of the way, because you know that you have to do the big important thing anyway so it will get done come hell or high water.

This approach puts you under unnecessary pressure, affects the quality of your work and turns your long day into an even longer one, which you can sustain for only so long. So how to rank the important things, some of which might be urgent? Some ‘managing up’ is required here, because your boss might be leaning on you for the output that she or he feels is the must important and pressing. What should drive the ranking is the only criterion that really matters, namely the value to your customers. You need to communicate early and often with your boss and make them aware of what is driving the order of the things you need to do.

And what if you can’t separate that handful of things that are all of equal weight and all help your customers be more successful? Well, then you need to get help or suck it up, safe in the knowledge that you are driving up your value as you drive up the value of the people who are the reason you’re in business.