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Urgency and importance

Working Under Pressure

Many people share that they work well under pressure. However, working under pressure can often lead to complications which include:

  • Heightened and prolonged stress
  • Constantly feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Burnout
  • Physical health problems
  • Low motivation
  • Work mistakes and poor performance

All of these can be prevented when we learn how to manage time and prioritze our responsibilities.

Time Management

Time management is a helpful executive functioning tool when prioritizing and completing tasks. However, it is a bit of a tricky concept because we cannot “manage” or control time. Time will occur with or without us. So, time management really refers to what we do with the time we have and how we complete different tasks given the time constraints.

Managing Responsibilities

When we have several things on our to-do lists, it can become difficult to prioritize various tasks. When we are un able to prioritize tasks, we can be come overwhelmed and unable to manage time, deadlines, and deliverables. Learning the difference between importance and urgency can be an extremely beneficial skill to develop.


Importance refers to our internal reflections as to whether something has meaning to us. This is a personal value we place on tasks. What one person views as important, someone else might now. For example, different people may place different levels of importance on household chores. Someone may view cleaning their room as high importance; whereas, someone else might view as less important than doing laundry.


Urgency refers to the external factors, such as deadlines that impact when a task needs to be done. Urgent tasks typically need to be handled immediately. Examples of urgent tasks may include:

  • Homework assignments
  • Work tasks
  • Bills
  • Rent
  • Medical appointments

Juggling Various Tasks

An analogy that can often help people with managing their time and prioritizing task items is the idea of juggling multiple balls (or tasks). We are constantly juggling balls. Some balls are plastic and some are glass. It’s okay if we drop plastic balls from time to time. However, it is important that we do not drop glass balls. What separates glass balls from plastic ones is how important and/or urgent the tasks we attribute to them are.

Prioritizing Tasks

When prioritizing tasks, use the matrix to identify the importance and urgency of your tasks.

  • Prioritize tasks that have high importance and urgency.
  • Complete these tasks first.
  • Plan ahead for tasks that are important but not urgent. It can become easy to place these tasks on the back burner and procrastinate.
  • Delegate tasks that are urgent but not important. For example, asking your partner wash the dishes or walking the dog.
  • Eliminate tasks that can are not important or urgent. These tasks can easily eat up our time and get in the way of completing tasks that are important and/or urgent.

Prioritizing Tasks

When prioritizing tasks, it may be helpful to detail the various steps needed to complete each task.

  • Be specific!
  • Implement Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals.
  • Document tasks and assignments
  • Monitor your progress
  • Take breaks and practice self-care
  • Remind yourself that learning new habits takes practice
  • Do your best

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.