How do you differentiate between important and urgent tasks?

Shavin Peiries May 14, 2021 3 min read

A to-do list is a must for anyone trying to get anything done.

Either you're writing it on a post-it, a whiteboard, or simply writing it down on a piece of paper.

The most satisfactory part? Crossing it off as done.

But after a while, those methods stop working. You start to wonder if what you're crossing off is actually fulfilling your purpose. This tends to happen when you don't give enough thought to the importance of the task.

Working on your career & personal life is a multifaceted game of figuring out what deserves your attention.

Productive creators understand that there's a difference between doing things that move the needle and just doing things. The motion you feel from crossing tasks does not mean progress.

The first glimpse of solving this problem for us as Very Bad Wizards came with Jake Knapp's Burner List idea.

It goes like this:

It's a paper-based system, and it worked great for a while... until it didn't.

The problem again —even with the burner idea— is prioritisation.

It's not until my partner Mayun read this quote from Steven Pressfield:

"The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what's important first."

For him, the answer was to just add the words Important and Urgent, and before adding any task, to think which category it falls under.

As noble as a paper and pen system is, the problem with it is that maintaining those notes is a hassle.

If you put them down in a notebook, it's difficult to go fishing for your next task when you've written down things after making your burner list.

So what's the answer? Another to-do list app?

Yes, that's right.

Say hello to Burner List.

This is what my one looks like:

It's the same thing as Jake Knapp's system but on your computer!

Projects act as "dishes", and each task is represented as an "ingredient". You can add dishes to the important back burner and urgent front burner. "Other" holds ingredients only.

A significant difference between the two systems is that it's an Important Back Burner to signify big projects & Urgent Front Burner to represent smaller one's that need to get done. We wanted to keep the cooking analogy coherent because a back burner is more significant in circumference than the front burner. We know that it's confusing because people always say "bringing it to the front burner" to show that something is being moved up in importance.

But here's why it's better than the paper-based method:

It's on your browser.

If you're reading this, then it's likely that you spend your time on a computer. You might not always have a piece of paper, but you will most often than not be in front of a computer.

Projects are sortable.

Watch the demo. If you have 1-2 dishes on them, you can sort them according to the sequence you want to accomplish them.

It has a focus mode!

Watch the demo. Focus mode makes your urgent tasks only partially visible. So you can keep the focus on the important side of things.

To be very frank burner list isn't working up to its capacity, it isn't responsive, and you can't save your details into an account yet.

It's a work in progress. But it can help you as it is right now to get your job done.

As a creator prioritising your work is more important than getting things done for the sake of it. We've been using it ever since we launched the idea 6 months ago. Try it out! If it isn't for you, then Jake's paper-based system works well too.

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