How Can You Tell the Difference Between Important and Urgent Issues? — What Successful Venture Leaders Say

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One of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a venture leader is deciding what’s Important and what is Urgent. Driving the overall vision and plan for the venture is your purview, your scope and what is expected of you from your team. At the same time, as the venture leader, anything that doesn’t fit onto someone else’s plate inevitably ends up on yours.

After all, if you’re not driving the vision or mission of your venture, then those who have funded your venture will be understandably disappointed. In the thick of things, everyone in your venture will look for you to cover any gaps in the venture until you can bring someone in to fill those functions. Though this all makes sense, you may find yourself swimming upstream against the current while driving the future of the venture.

In that struggle, it is often the case that the larger strategically important items suffer and are ignored due to an overwhelming need to address the urgent matters facing your venture RIGHT NOW! This challenge only increases in complexity and importance when real customers are involved – then the urgent can become overwhelmingly, and sometimes it’s the ONLY thing your venture is focusing on.

Trust me when I tell you that you want to avoid this at all cost. If you are only focused on the overwhelming issues and challenges here and now, you will lose all sight of the future. If you need more justification to avoid this scenario, read my blog entitled “When the Shift Hits the Plan”.

Here are 3 approaches that address the massive challenge a venture leader faces trying to drive the important while regularly managing the urgent.

1. Make Time For Strategic Planning

Whenever I speak to venture leaders, a common complaint I hear is that there’s never enough time to get the urgent things done, let alone the important. Candidly speaking, I couldn’t agree more – I’ve been there and I’ve struggled with this balancing act myself.

However, I’ve found a novel way to address this conundrum – make time! Obviously, we all have exactly the same 24 hours a day 365 days a year, so what I mean is “make time” in your schedule or calendar by earmarking or setting aside a dedicated period of time to drive the strategically important items for your venture.

For example, I often carve out a ½ hour every other day to focus on key long-term or strategic imperatives for the venture. Practically speaking, earmarking this time on the calendar ensures that it doesn’t “fall off” the radar and offers a dedicated period of time for focus on these items to drive them forward.

In addition, having it as a repeating block of time facilitates continual follow up and monitoring of these initiatives because these types of activities are typically critical path items. This will ensure that your team actually makes measurable forward progress on these initiatives, which will be the payback that all of you are looking for.

It’s also very important that during this “make time” period you and your team are religious about focusing on the larger strategic efforts you’ve allocated the time for in the first place and NOT anything else. If you allow this time to get sidetracked or distracted into other areas or topics, typically those burning a hole in your rug then you will defeat the purpose of setting aside this time. This tip can be more difficult to implement than it might appear at first, especially as a venture leader’s calendar can be packed with non-stop back-to-back meetings and discussion. But make time and you’ll be glad you did.

2. Utilize the “One Touch” Rule on Urgent Items

The idea here is to reduce the impact of the urgent items on your time on a day-to-day basis. Your goal is to reduce the number of times you “touch” (read, review, process, respond, etc.) an urgent matter down to one. Many venture leaders make the mistake of putting urgent items into a continual spin that requires their constant input and attention, causing them to boomerang back to them once they “clear” them off their desk.

Obviously there will be some issues (irate top 10 customers) that you may personally want to address, but, for the bulk of items that come to your plate as urgent, you want to make an initial evaluation, set up a decision matrix and a paradigm for response to the item with your team in a one-touch encounter.

Practice makes perfect! In the future, when similar issues arise, you and your team can leverage this framework again and quickly close out the urgent matter from your perspective as a one-touch. Ultimately, you want your team to step up and handle these issues so that they never make it to your desk at all. How great would that be?

When venture leaders are required in every step of a resolution, this delays the process of response. Remember that you’re only one person and can only scale so far. On the other hand, you don’t want to make sub-par responses to everything to quickly clear the backlog of issues piling up in your inbox. Neither of these two are desirable outcomes.

Regularly applying the one-touch rule on your urgent items will result in more free time for important items. This increased efficiency and “clearing the decks” of the urgent items actually benefits the venture overall. On a personal note, it can lead to a greater peace of mind and personal balance for the venture leader. Focusing on the important issues burning up in the back of your mind de-clutters more than just your email inbox!

3. Relentlessly Apply Your Priority Filter

Urgent items by their very nature can be incessant and consume substantial chunks of time and attention. That is exactly what makes them so dangerous. However, a venture leader ignores these types of matters at their own risk, because they are often urgent for a reason (top ten client!)

The way to ensure you’re responding in an appropriate manner to all matters, urgent or otherwise is to religiously and rigorously apply your priority filter to each and every issue, BEFORE you begin the response cycle. Specifically don’t just assign priority based on urgency; ensure that you factor in the importance of an issue as based upon your priorities and overall objectives.

Often times, venture leaders assign a priority to something simply based on urgency. The net effect of this approach can be a constant state of harried, high-strung responses to each and every matter. This may work for the short term, but it definitely won’t work for the long haul. So ensure that you set a priority level to items before you respond to them.

The priorities you set should be based on your business goals. If you drive your priorities and your responses based on these, you will quickly see the benefits of this approach. Specifically, at the time of the venture review or evaluation, you will find that you will be able to check more of the objectives and boxes off of your list then you have in the past. Who doesn’t want that?

By relentlessly applying the priority filter, you ensure that you are focused on what is most important for your organization. You will be less frazzled and you will exude more confidence because you know your venture is heading in the right direction. When you ensuring that the priority filter is applied, you provide yourself enough time to completely and comprehensively address and resolve the urgent items on your plate – so that once its done, it truly is done.

Managing important and urgent items effectively is a balancing act. Venture leaders who master this art will govern with more purpose and will drive more successful ventures.


If you have any questions, please drop me a note. I’d be happy to provide you with advice and guidance. Also, read and share all my blogs at

About this blog – The goal of this blog is to share my experiences, to capture and reveal valuable insights, and to draw from my serial entrepreneur-ship through 7 ventures over the past 20 years. I have encountered many impressive entrepreneurs along the way and I hope to share our collective experience with you to help teach and perhaps motivate you to launch your own B2B or B2C enterprise.

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