Debugging "Urgent" vs. "Important"

As we are entering our final days of applications to the Double You Retreat, we have many thoughts and feelings about this sense of urgency. A deadline is pressing. Spaces are almost sold out and all of us have been waiting for this moment for a year. And now - when the time has come to make a decision, some ask themselves the million dollar question - what is Urgent Vs. what is Important?

Stephie Knopel, who among many other things, is also an active team member of the Double You collective, has shared her wise experience on how she needed to debug her notion of URGENT and what it took to get to her own version of what's IMPORTANT.

I think it was 6 years ago. I’m sure it was a Tuesday. 10:00 pm. The phone rings and I am still at the agency. The CEO is calling:

"Stephie, < Charlie’s teacher’s voice >….you do not know what urgent is.”

I won't waste your time explaining the reason for the call, because it’s simply  #yawn boring. But it didn't take long for the phrase “you don't know what urgent is” to become a live meme at my office. Jokes sprung up within the creative team and so did a beautiful acoustic song version inspired by the accusation. Beyond the fun we made out of it, the truth is that it hurt me. While I left 12 years of the OCD advertising life ages ago, I still strongly remember that moment.

Deciding what is URGENT is definitely one of the most required criteria of a smart professional. It can be the SKILL or THREAT for performance. If you think like that, I know you have most probably tried Trello, Slack, To.Do, Harvest, WriteRoom, “”eat-the-frog-first” and many others from the tsunami of petite hacks of productivity...and they all somehow work. For WORK.

But what about life? For years I let others dictate what was urgent...

Deadlines, calls, being in the right place, money, meetings, social meetings, talking, saying, conferences, being a good friend, a good family member, a good wife, a good everything…until, with no surprise, the urgent ate the important. For breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If would use the Eisenhower quadrants, absolutely EVERYTHING that had to do with OTHERS, was put in the quadrant of URGENT …and sadly anything that had to do with myself was in the quadrant of IMPORTANT, but NOT urgent. Yes, exactly the one that tells you to “decide when will be a good time to do that” - which results in never.

My list of IMPORTANT, but not urgent looked a bit like this:

“I should start meditating, I know it could change my daily life.”

“Time to read the book I promised myself.”

“It’s 2am and I am still working. Time to sleep.”


“2 hours without the phone.”

“That weekend with no work…”

“Breathing?…but …really, B.R.E.A.T.H.I.N.G?”

“I should paint again, as I have all my life.”

That could all wait.

We tend to leave life and self care decisions in the box of IMPORTANT, but not urgent, creating the illusion we are dealing with ”at some point,” always seemingly on the to do list and never the lucky task to be crossed off. See Figure 1 and think of the lists of things that you have thrown in that box: from choosing your partner. From taking the yoga class or nutritionist you know you need. A day off. Your phone off. I call that square the “self-abandoning box.” The paradox is that while not acting upon that list immediately, the urgent becomes a breakdown, and the breakdown becomes a failure. AKA Oh-shit moments.

Mine was when I ended up in a hospital in the middle of Halloween in San Francisco with the worst horror story and no costume besides my real self-abused body. Until I almost lost a company. Until I almost lost the people who I care about the most.

I am the kind of a person that would tell others not to wait for life, having a baby, or death, people dying, to redefine and readapt what is truly URGENT in life. I don’t have a baby (yet) and I haven’t died (yet), but the truth is that I spent 12 months not being entirely alive. Just because I was not able to uncover what my own sense of URGENCY was - for me.

So here’s how I started “debugging urgent” from the beginning of 2017:

  • Every week, I take my to do list, and I simply turn it around. Simple as that. No apps needed. I know my soul puts others usually before, so just seeing the list the other way around brings enlightenment and reassessment opportunity.

  • Every 6 months I use the Eisenhower quadrants. I don't forget about it, I have an alarm set for that. 

  • I ask myself what the impact is of the now VS in the future decision? How could that affect the rest of the apparently “URGENT” matters?

  • And probably the most important for me: What is that thing that can be unleashed if you decide and act now, which is causing me so much fear?

It’s time for us to realize that all those little things that we find important and we will do at some point, require our ACTIONS IN THE NOW. Because those are our “petite hacks” - our APPS in life to bring ourselves to our best version: with the productivity we have always wanted, and the happiness we are all deserving.

If you got to the end of this post it’s because you too are rethinking how to redefine your URGENCY in life. What is the question that is pressing you? How long have you been waiting for it? What is stopping you from deciding NOW?

It's our duty to relearn how to apply the sense of urgency to our important things so the desire of making changes happen, and will not get lost and diluted over time. And also, because urgent care of those matters are usually less expensive too. 

As Seth Godin says, “If you work in an urgent-only culture, the only solution is to make the right things urgent.” That's what I did. My ex-corporate CEO wasn’t wrong about me. I didn’t know what urgent was. She had meant tasks. Now, I mean LIFE.


If you are ready to join this important journey with us, and take the time to invest in yourself, apply now to Double You. Our upcoming retreat will take place September 22-24 in the Israeli desert.

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