A Stitch in Time – Part 1

A Stitch in Time Saves…

Have you noticed how small problems tend to get bigger the longer you don’t deal with them?

A Stitch in Time Saves NineTraditional Proverb

See the Problem

Neglecting a small problem often creates a bigger problem:

  • Leave something on the sofa, soon the sofa is full of clutter.
  • Interest accumulates on a small debt.
  • A neglected friend becomes just a mere acquaintance.
  • A small scratch on your car becomes a rusty mess.
  • A small leak leads to redecoration.
  • A few insects become an infestation.
  • An unkind word can become a feud.
  • A single dandelion becomes a lawn of weeds.
  • A little white lie leads to a whopper.
  • When a small wound become infected, a limb can be lost.
  • A small mole becomes a life-threatening cancer.
  • An occasional indulgence becomes a destructive habit.

Understand the Problem

There are many processes underlying this principle. Here are just a few of them:

  • Agents reproduce after their own kind:
    • Debt creates debt.
    • Weeds and pests reproduce.
    • Hurting people hurt people.
  • Destructive agents exploit small weaknesses.
  • When issuesare neglected, you create a new “normal”:
    • You reinforce poor habits
    • You set an example for others to follow
    • You become familiar with the problem, so you don’t see it any more

Solve the Problem

Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.Song of Songs 2:15

To stop a small problem fro becoming a big problem, you need to:

  1. See the the problem when it is small.
  2. Deal with it before it becomes a big problem.

Further Reading


The Parable of the Talents: The Faithful Servants

The Parable of the Talents offers some powerful insights into effective investment and personal growth.


The Parable of the Talents is a story told by Jesus to illustrate deep truths about what really matters in life. As recorded in Matthew’s gospel, it reads like this:

A Story about Three Servants

14 … A man went away and put his three servants in charge of all he owned. 15 The man knew what each servant could do. So he handed five thousand coins to the first servant, two thousand to the second, and one thousand to the third. Then he left the country.

16 As soon as the man had gone, the servant with the five thousand coins used them to earn five thousand more. 17 The servant who had two thousand coins did the same with his money and earned two thousand more. 18 But the servant with one thousand coins dug a hole and hid his master’s money in the ground.

19 Some time later the master of those servants returned. He called them in and asked what they had done with his money. 20 The servant who had been given five thousand coins brought them in with the five thousand that he had earned. He said, “Sir, you gave me five thousand coins, and I have earned five thousand more.”

21 “Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

22 Next, the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, “Sir, you gave me two thousand coins, and I have earned two thousand more.”

23 “Wonderful!” his master replied. “You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness!”

24 The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, “Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don’t plant and gather crops where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!”

26 The master of the servant told him, “You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don’t plant and gather crops where I haven’t scattered seed. 27 You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it.”

28 Then the master said, “Now your money will be taken away and given to the servant with ten thousand coins! 29 Everyone who has something will be given more, and they will have more than enough. But everything will be taken from those who don’t have anything. 30 You are a worthless servant, and you will be thrown out into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.”

— Matthew 25:14-30 (CEV)

Who are The Characters in the Story?

The characters in the story are:

  • The Master
  • The Faithful Servants
    • 2TS, the Servant who received 2 Talents.
    • 5TS, the Servant who received 5 Talents.
  • The Unfaithful Servant, 1TS, who received just 1 Talent.

The Faithful Servants: What is their story?

The story of these two faithful Servants is similar, so we’ll consider them together.

  1. They receive Talents from the Master
  2. While the Master was away, they invested the Talents
  3. As a result, they double the number of Talents that they have
  4. They receive a reward from the Master on his return.

What are the servants given? What are Talents?

Many illustrations imply that a Talent is a small coin. However, a Talent is actually a unit of weight. When used as a measure of money, it refers to a talent-weight of gold or of silver. It is unknown exactly what the monetary value this represents, but the important point is that this is a very large sum of money.

Just as many assume that a Biblical Talent is much smaller than it actually was, I think many of us underestimate our own talents. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

What do these Talents symbolise?

There are different views:

  • The gospel
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Natural abilities
  • Our material possessions
Some sources insist that the parable is only about one or other of these. Despite this, the parable appears to illustrate principles that apply in all these areas.

Where did the Talents come from?

From the Master:

Every good gift… comes from heavenJames 1:17 GNB

What are Your Talents?


  • Make a list of your Talents, big and small.
  • Highlight your main Talents in the list.


Interestingly, in a group where I asked about people’s talents, the initial reaction of some members was that they have no particular abilities or talents. However, even the things we often take for granted are important. Consider basic human abilities:

  • Body = ability to do things
  • Brain = ability to think
  • Hearing = ability to listen
  • Mouth = ability to speak

We may be a 2TS rather than a 5TS, but we all have Talents.

Compare 2TS and 5TS

What are the similarities between 2TS and 5TS?

  • They both take on responsibilities.
  • They are both faithful.

What are the differences?

  • They have different abilities.
  • They are given different starting points.
  • The gifts that they are given have different values.
  • Their potentials are different.

Why Two Faithful Servants?

The 1TS could look at the others and say, “They have more than me – I have been set up to fail!”. But the 2TS can look at 5TS and give the same argument. However, he does not do so – he is just faithful. By including both faithful servants in the story, Jesus shows that we cannot excuse ourselves by pointing to the differences between others and ourselves.


Make a list of the people with whom you compare yourself, and how.

  • Does this impact what you do with your own Talents?
  • Is this a good thing?
  • What can you do about it?

So, Does it Matter How Much We Have?

To some extent… but how effectively we use what we have is more important.

What Did the Servants do with the Talents?

We don’t know exactly. We know they invested them.

Did the Master tell them to Invest?

The Bible does not say so.

So, how did they know what to do?

Did they know because they knew the Master, because they observed him and saw how he did business?

Has our master left us alone (as he did with these servants)?

No! We have the Holy Spirit to help us.


Look through the list of Talents you made earlier.

  • Do you actually invest them?
  • Could you invest them more effectively?
  • Do you need help from others to develop your talents?


Consider your Main Talents. Set SMART goals for you development and investment of these Talents.

Did they work for themselves or the Master?

They worked on behalf of the master, not for themselves. Their initial funds came from him, and always belonged to him. And the return on their investment belonged to him, as well.
But they benefited, too.

What were their Rewards?

  • Praise
  • Greater Responsibility
  • Joy

What else did they gain?

  • Continuing to work for the Master (fellowship?)
  • Abundance
  • Increased influence
  • Greater opportunity to do more of the Master’s business

What was the praise for?

The Master does not praise them for their productivity, but their faithfulness.


Consider your responsibilities.
Make a list of the key people (or groups of people) in your life. List your main responsibilities to each of them.

  • Are you meeting your responsibilities?
  • Do these responsibilities play to your strengths? Do they fit in with your Main Talents?
  • Do you want more responsibility?
  • Could you take on more?
  • Can you shed some of the responsibilities that do not fit in with your Main Talents to focus on your strengths?

Did the Servants keep the talents?

It looks like it. In fact, they keep both the original talents and the ones that they made.

How do we develop/grow our talents?

By investing / using them.


These notes were made following a group discussion that I led some years ago. Thanks to all who contributed.

Further Reading

Despite my misgivings about some of the things taught by LDS, I would be remiss if I didn’t reference their beautiful illustrations of this story. Note that you’ll need permission from owner if you want to use these images (not from me!).

The Best Way to Obtain a New Customer

… is to keep an existing customer.

What are companies doing wrong?

Much effort goes in to gaining new customers. Marketing departments spend a small fortune on advertising, generating new leads and increasing market share by enticing customers away from the competition. Effective as these strategies can be, there is often a better way to win customers: to retain old ones rather than recruiting new ones.

See the Problem

Have you ever dealt with a company where:

  • Calls to the sales line are free. Calls to the support line are charged.
  • Calls to the sales team are answered immediately. When you call the support line you are put in a queue (but a recorded message assures you that your call is important to the company).
  • New customers are drawn in by special offers and discounts. The price goes up for existing customers.
  • New prospects get personal treatment. Existing supporters get junk mail, web portals and call centres.
  • New customers can buy the product. Existing owners can’t get parts to maintain the product.
  • New clients get the red carpet treatment. Existing clients get a kick in the teeth.

Sadly, these behaviours are very common. We see them in banks, utility companies and even in some churches.

Follow the Feeling

As a customer of a company like this, how does this make you feel?

Deep down, we all know that company behaviour is a reflection of company values. And companies that behave like this don’t value their existing customers.
As a customer of a company like this, what do you do?

  • We tell our friends about or bad experience.
  • We take our custom elsewhere.
  • We don’t come back (unless it is even worse elsewhere!)

Look for the Danger Signs

It is as if your front door is a revolving door. Customers come in, stay but a little while, and then leave. If your company has a high “churn rate” (i.e. customers leaving and going elsewhere) then you have a problem.

What is The Alternative?

Look after your existing customers.

After all:

Existing Customers Spend More

You already have a relationship with your existing customers. They have already shown an interest in your product, your company and you. They have already been sufficiently impressed with your products to part with their time and money to enjoy them. They have said “yes” to you once, so (all things being equal) they are likely to do so again.

(To find out why, see Cialdini’s chapter on Commitment and Consistency in his book, Influence).

You Already Know Them

You already have data about existing customers. You should already know:

  1. You know the types of products that they choose.
  2. You already know their names, addresses, contact details etc.
  3. You know what sales techniques work on them.

If you’ve reached them once, you can do so again.

Existing Customers Cost Less

It costs 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one that you’ve already got.

Existing Customers Recruit New Customers

Happy customers tell other people about their experiences. They do your marketing for you.
(To find out why, see Cialdini’s chapter on Social Proof in his book, Influence).


Some of my existing customers are problem customers. Are you saying that I should do everything I can to retain them?

No. I’m talking here about your current good customers. Although some of your problem customers become less of a pain if you treat them better, you should really think carefully about the value of retaining customers who are a drain on your resources without helping you achieve your goals.

I need new customers if my business is going to grow. But you’re saying that I shouldn’t go looking for them?

No, I’m not saying that! I’m saying that your focus should be on looking after your existing customers because there is generally a better return on investment in doing so.

I sell low quality products, so most of my previous customers don’t want to come back.

Then, sell better products!

I sell high quality products, so most of my previous customers don’t need to come back.

So, either sell them something else (accessories, complementary products, enhancements, support contracts…) or, recruit them as ambassadors for your company. Or both.


It is difficult to over-state the importance of looking after existing customers. They are your bread and butter. Look after them and they’ll look after you.


Book Notes: “Influence” Chapter 2: Reciprocation

Reciprocation: A summary of the second chapter of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini.

The Ethiopian Aid Puzzle

In 1985, “Ethiopia could justly lay claim to the greatest suffering and privation in the world. Its economy was in ruin. Its food supply had been ravaged by years of drought and internal war. Its inhabitants were dying by the thousands from disease and starvation.” It wouldn’t surprise us to learn that $5,000 in relief funds had been send to Ethiopia from Mexico. But the exact opposite happened. The Ethiopian Red Cross had sent $5,000 to Mexico, to support the victims of an earthquake in Mexico City.

The Reciprocation Principle

People are more likely to comply with a request if it is made by somebody who has already done something for them.

Example: Greetings Cards

When a college professor sent cards to complete strangers, many of them sent cards back to him.

Why Does the Rule Exist?

This rule exists because of the overall benefits to society.
We are conditioned by society to return a favour if one is done for us.

You scratch my back…

  • We have been conditioned to feel uncomfortable when beholden
  • There are often social sanctions for those who break the rules

Example: Coke and Raffle Tickets

Joe was one of two people were waiting to participate in an art evaluation experiment. Joe was secretly working for the experimenter. In the waiting room before the experiment, Joe sometimes bought the other participant a Coke. After the art experiment was over, Joe asked the other participant if they could help him out and buy some raffle tickets. When Joe had bought a Coke for the other participant, he sold more raffle tickets after he experiment.

The Power of The Reciprocity Principle

The rule possesses awesome strength, often producing a yes response to a request that, except for an existing feeling of indebtedness, would have surely been refused.Robert Cialdini

The effect of liking/disliking is overwhelmed by obligation:

  • For those who didn’t owe Joe a favor, there was a significant tendency for subjects to buy more raffle tickets from Joe the more they liked him.
  • For those who owed him a favor, it made no difference whether they liked him or not; they felt a sense of obligation to repay him, and they did.

Key Features of the Principle

Compliance professionals may exploit these features:

  • Person can trigger a feeling of indebtedness by doing us an uninvited favor (people didn’t ask Joe for Coke)
  • The reciprocity rule that allows it to be exploited for profit (raffle tickets were 25x more expensive than Coke)

Who Exploits this Principle

Businesses, charities and politicians exploit this rule to their advantage. In the hope of gaining something in return, they often offer:

  • Gifts
  • Free samples
  • Favours
  • Concessions

Example: Mints

This is the reason you’re given a mint with your bill in a restaurant: studies have shown that more mints lead to higher tips.

The Rejection-then-Retreat Technique

This is a common techinque used by compliance professionals to get us to do something we wouldn’t normally do.
Three steps:

  • Make a large request.
  • Make a concession.
  • Make a small request.

Why does this work? Two principles are at work here:

  • Reciprocation: The requester has made a concession. Now it is your turn.
  • Contrast: The small request seems small in comparison to the big one.

Example: Talking the Top of the Line

A sales practice used in retail is to “talk the top of the line.” The customer is shown the deluxe model first. If the customer buys, the store is happy. But if the customer doesn’t buy, the salesperson counteroffers with a more reasonably priced model.

The Surprise Factor

People who are surprised by a request will often comply because they are momentarily unsure of themselves and, consequently, influenced easily.

The Solution to the Ethiopian Aid Puzzle

In 1935, Mexico had sent aid to Ethiopia when it was invaded by Italy. The Ethiopians feld obligated to them.

Advice for Marketers

The implication is you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return.Robert Cialdini

Final Example

Plesase could you read all my articles and comment on them all?
No? Then please could you leave a comment for just this one, then?
By the way, you’re looking great today!


Book Notes: “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” (Chapter 1)

A summary of the introductory chapter of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini (Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University).

The “Good Deal” Principle

The Good Deal Principle says that people want to get a good deal, i.e. that we want to get the best and we want to pay the least. People follow this principle when they gather and analyse information before making a decision. We might be tempted to think that this is the principle that we follow when we make most of our decisions. Interestingly, however, this isn’t how many decisions are made…

The Jewelery Shop Puzzle

A jewelery shop carried a range of turquoise jewelry that wasn’t selling. The owner had tried various common to promote the jewelery, but to no avail. She finally accepted that she would have to sell the offending items at a loss. Before leaving for a trip, the shop owner left a note for her assistant, asking that the price of the turquoise jewelery needed to be dropped whilst she was away. When the owner returned a few days later, she was not surprised to find that every item had sold. The remarkable point of this story is that the assistant mis-read the note, and mistakenly doubled the price of the jewelry.

Analogy to Animal Behaviour

Ethologists (scientists who study animal behavior in the natural environment) have observed that many species exhibit specific patterns of behaviour in response to a certain fixed stimulus. e.g. mother turkeys respond to the cheep-cheep of their turkey-chicks with typical mothering behavior. Other characteristics of the chicks (e.g. smell, touch, appearance) play little role in triggering the mothering response. The importance of the cheep-cheep stimulus is highlighted by an experiment involving mother turkeys and a stuffed polecat. Polecats are natural enemies of turkeys, so mother turkeys normally attack the stuffed polecat. However, when the stuffed polecat emitted a cheep-cheep sound, the mother turkeys responded with the same mothering behaviors as they would to a real chick. A similar phenomena occurs in a wide variety of species and include a wide range of behaviours including courtship rituals, feeding and defensive behaviors. “Fixed-action patterns” of behavior are typically triggered by very specific stimulus or “trigger feature”. For example, a male robin will attack a clump of red breast feathers as if it were a rival male, but it will ignore a near-perfect model of a robin that lacks the red feathers.
Sometimes humans behave in a similar way:

  • In many situations, the way we behave depends on simple triggers
  • This can be true even when additional information is available.
  • Normally, the trigger features that we use are sufficiently accurate for us to decide on an appropriate action.
  • But they leave us open to manipulation by compliance professionals

There are important differences between the automatic responses of humans and lower animals:

  • The automatic behavior patterns of animals tend to be inborn and inflexible, whereas in humans they tend to be learned
  • Animals respond to very specific trigger features, whereas humans have a larger range of triggers
  • In humans, our programmed responses can be overridden by higher-order functions.

Why Do We Need Shortcuts?

The reason why we work this way is that it enables us to make decisions rapidly and with a minimum of effort. We need shortcuts to enable us to deal with a complex, rapidly changing world.We can’t possibly do a full analysis of every situation. Instead, we use “rules of thumb” (properly called “judgmental heuristics”) to help us identify key features of a situation and respond appropriately. The advantage of this strategy is that we conserve time and energy, but they can leave us open to both costly mistakes and to manipulation. Cialdini calls these responses, “click-whirr” responses.

Rule: “Just Because”

When we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason.

Example: Making Copies

There was a queue for the copying machine. The experimenter asked if they could go in front of someone. The likelihood of being given permission to queue-jump depended on how the request was phrased:

  • “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” (no reason) – 60%
  • “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” (a meaningful reason) – 94%
  • “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” (a meaningless reason) – 93%

When Do We Use Judgmental Heuristics?

We are more likely to deal with information in a controlled fashion when:

  • Something is important to us (desire)
  • We are skilled in handling the appropriate information (ability)

We are less likely to analyze when we are:

  • Fatigued
  • Emotionally aroused
  • In a hurry
  • Distracted
  • Surprised

At these times, we are most vulnerable to manipulation.

The Contrast Principle

If two items differ significantly, we tend to see them as more different than they actually are.

Weights Example

If we lift a light object first and then lift a heavy object, the second object is judged heaver than it would be if we hadn’t lifted the light one first.

Clothing Stores Example

Sales staff are instructed to try to sell costly items first, because the price of cheaper items will seem much lower in comparison.

Rule: “You get what you pay for”

… an example of a judgmental heuristic.
According to this rule:

  • expensive = good
  • inexpensive = bad

Whisky Example

Sales of Chivas Regal Scotch Whiskey “skyrocketed” when the price went up.

Solution to the Jewelery Shop Puzzle

The buyers of the jewelery were tourists who know little about the product. So they relied on the “You get what you pay for” rule rather than knowledge of the product.

Persuasion Principles

Some of the most important rules that people tend use when making decisions are:

  • Principle 0: The Good Deal Principle
  • Principle 1: Reciprocity
  • Principle 2: Commitment and Consistency
  • Principle 3: Social Proof
  • Principle 4: Authority
  • Principle 5: Liking
  • Principle 6: Scarcity

In the remainder of the book, Cialdini discusses in depth all but the first of these principles (he excludes the Good Deal principle because it is based on rational analysis of available information, and is therefore relatively immune from the kind of manipulation that is the main topic of the book).

The Prayer of St Brendan the Navigator

A prayer for the journey.

Saint Brendan “the Navigator” was a seafaring Irish monk who founded a large monastery around 577 AD at Clonfert, a small village in east County Galway, Ireland. Many fantastical tales grew up around the exploits of Saint Brendan, chief of which is his legendary quest to the “Isle of the Blessed”, a mythical island supposedly situated in the North Atlantic somewhere west of North Africa.

Amongst the stories attributed to Brendan is the following prayer. Whether or not it was penned by Brendan or a later hand matters little. It is a moving prayer, and I have found beneficial on the journey toward my own “Blessed Isle”:

Lord, I will trust You,
Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.
Give me faith to leave the old ways and break fresh ground with you.

Christ of the mysteries,
Can I trust You to be stronger than each storm in me?
Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten me?

I will show others the care You’ve given me.
I will determine amidst all uncertainty always to trust.
I choose to live beyond regret, and let You recreate my life.

I believe You will make a way for me and provide for me, if only I trust You and obey.
I will trust in the darkness and know that my times are still in Your hand.
I will believe You for my future, chapter by chapter, until the story is written.

Focus my mind and my heart upon You, my attention always on You without alteration.
Strengthen me with Your blessing and appoint to me the task.
Teach me to live with eternity in view.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven.
Feed me, and, somehow, make my obedience count for You.


Use Tasker to Block Apps at Certain Times

How I use Tasker on my Android phone to prevent myself logging on to social media sites at certain times of day.

Why I Want This

I get up earlier than everyone else in my household, and take a little time to prepare for the day. Towards the end of last year, however, I was allowing myself to be distracted during my morning routine. Instead of useful preparation, I was allowing myself time to mess about on social media sites.

So, at the beginning of this year I decided that I need to focus on improving my productivity using my Smartphone, rather than allowing it to become a distraction. I’m not ready to give up the likes of Facebook completely, but I don’t want it available first thing in the morning.

It so happens that I’ve had Tasker installed on my phone for a while. If you don’t know it, Tasker is an app which performs tasks (sets of actions) based on events (such as time, location, event, gesture etc). It occurred to me that I might be able to use Tasker to prevent me from running certain applications at certain times of the day.

How To Block Facebook Between 6:00 AM and 10:00 AM

I use Tasker to block Facebook between 6 and 10 in the morning. My approach is to set up two profiles:

  • The first sets the variable “MORNING_MODE” at 6am and clears it at 10am.
  • The second prevents Facebook from opening when the “MORNING_MODE” variable is set.

The result is that, if I try to display Facebook between the specified times, then I am returned to the Home screen.

Part 1: Set Up a Time Profile

  1. Crate a new Time Profile.
  2. Set its From time to 6:00 and its To time to 10:00.
  3. Create a new task for the profile called “Morning On”.
  4. Add a new action to the task. Pick “Variables”>”Variable Set”.
  5. Give the variable the name “MORNING_MODE”, and set the value to “1” (a value is required, but won’t actually be used, so you can actually set it to anything you like).
  6. Go back to the profile you’ve just created and add a “Disable” task.
  7. Create a new task for the profile called “Morning Off”.
  8. Add a new action to the task. Pick “Variables”>”Variable Clear”.
  9. Specify the variable name “MORNING_MODE”.
  10. Optionally, give the profile a name, such as “Morning”.

Part 2: Set Up an Application Profile for Facebook

  1. Create a new Application Profile.
  2. Select the Facebook app.
  3. Add a new task, named “Block Facebook”.
  4. Add an action to the task. Pick “App”>”Go Home” .
  5. Add an “If” condition to the task.
  6. Set its condition to “MORNING_MODE” Is Set.


Tasker isn’t the easiest of applications to get to grips with. Nevertheless, with a little patience I’ve been able to make it do some fairly nifty things.

Priority Setting: Important vs Urgent

Priority setting is essential if you intend to make the best of your time. And, in order to prioritise effectively, it is essential to understand the difference between important and urgent.

What is the Eisenhower principle?

The distinction between urgency and Importance was popularized by Stephen Covey‘s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Apparently, the distinction is based on the insight of former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said:

I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.Dwight D. Eisenhower

What are “Important” tasks?

Important tasks are the ones that will (to the best of your judgement) result in an outcome that is of value to you.

What are “Urgent” tasks?

Urgent tasks are those that requires immediate attention. For example, a ringing phone, catching a flight or preparing for a meeting tomorrow. They are the the items in our to-do list that shout “Now!”.

Are all urgent tasks also important tasks?

Eisenhower’s insight is that many urgent tasks aren’t really that important. If a phone call goes unanswered, for example, then the caller will probably phone back if they need to. Missing a flight may not be important if there is a later one you could get instead. And missing tomorrow’s meeting won’t be a problem if it isn’t on a subject that interests you.

Of course, some urgent tasks are also important, but the point is that this isn’t always the case. Many tasks that need to be done soon may not really need to be done at all.

What happens when we focus on urgent things?

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to mistake urgent tasks for important ones. The problem with urgent tasks is that they usually put us in a reactive mode, which is typically marked by a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused mindset. When in this mode, it is easy to loose sight of the bigger picture. Because they have a close deadline, we feel pressured to get them done quickly, fearful of missing a deadline. As a result, we push other tasks aside so we can concentrate on these more pressing tasks. When we get into this mindset, we easily drop the ball on what is important and focus on the urgent instead.

How do we overcome our tendency to focus on urgency?

The only way to overcome this tendency is to take time out to evaluate our outstanding tasks and to assign them a priority based on both their urgency and importance.

  1. Both urgent and important. The best response to these tasks is to do them immediately. They are your highest priority tasks, the ones that deserve both energy and focus in the short term.
  2. Important, but not urgent. Schedule these tasks for some time in the future, ideally before they become urgent. They are your second highest priority tasks.
  3. Urgent, but not important. These are your third highest priority tasks. If you can delegate them, do so. If not, do them if you can, but don’t worry if you can’t.
  4. Neither urgent nor important. These tasks are a waste of time and energe, and as such they should be eliminated.

How does this look in practice?

Here’s what I do:

  1. I score each item on my to-do list for both urgency and importance.
  2. Each item gets a value between 1 and 5 for importance, where 1 is low and 5 is high.
  3. Similarly, each item gets a value between 1 and 5 for urgency, again 1 is low and 5 is high.
  4. I then multiply these pairs of numbers together to give each item a combined score.
  5. Tasks with the highest scores are my high priority tasks that will need immediate attention.
  6. Tasks with a low score are the low priority tasks that I cross of my task list.

When can I use this?

The great thing about this approach is that it can be used to establish priorities in the short-term planning (what are my priorities for today?), and in over the long-term (what are my priorities for this year?)