The difference between what is urgent and what is important

In 1954, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower cited the words of Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, and said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”


In the US, this became known as the “Eisenhower Principle” and is said to be how he organised his workload and priorities.


The principle recognises that good time management means being effective as well as efficient. In other words, we must spend our time on things that are important and not just the ones that are urgent.

To do this, and to minimise the stress which comes from too many tight deadlines, we need to understand the distinction between:

  • Important activities that have an outcome that leads to us achieving our goals, whether these are professional or personal, and
  • Urgent activities that demand immediate attention, and are often associated with achieving someone else’s goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.


When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, we can overcome the natural tendency to focus on unimportant urgent activities, so that we can clear enough time to do what’s essential for our success. In this the way, we can move from “firefighting” to being genuinely creative and productive, and, by the way, happier.

  • What’s on your To Do list at the moment?
  • Where do they lie on the Urgent/Important Matrix?