Photo by Jeffrey Grospe on Unsplash

It’s hurricane season for the Atlantic, which means that many areas are turning their attention and their resources to preparation and response efforts. This is important and urgent work.

My last post rant about work/life boundaries didn’t mention this, but I wanted to address it this week: while a lot of work is very important—critical, even—much of it isn’t urgent. If your work is truly life-or-death urgent and your boss is calling you at all hours of the night, my last post probably doesn’t apply.

In early September 2017, I was in St. Augustine, Florida training public health staff from all over the state on various tobacco control policy options available to them to pursue. I think I had just arrived at the conference room the morning of the second day of training when it was clear we had to cancel the remainder of the training because Hurricane Irma was on the fast track to the Florida Keys.

Many of the training attendees had emergency response duties in addition to their tobacco control work as part of their jobs (yay, public health budgets!). And while tobacco control and prevention is very important work, it is not urgent, especially when you compare it to a hurricane about to make landfall.

I returned safely to North Carolina and in a staff meeting, hotwashed (debriefed about) the training. Usually in hotwash, the conversation is about what activities went well, what slides need tweaking, what questions came up that I wasn’t prepared to answer, etc. But this time, I want to focus on the difference between important versus urgent work.

The Eisenhower Matrix (below) was often referenced at work in order to make decisions about tasks and priorities. But I wanted to apply it on a larger scale. Again, tobacco control and prevention is very important work. And sometimes it’s even urgent, like when a deadline is looming for something like a legislative session or grant application. And yes, tobacco control and prevention work saves lives. But it’s a long game. It doesn’t address acute issues.


And acute issues come up! Not just for the communities we’re trying to help (like tobacco/nicotine product users or people at risk of starting to use those products), but also for the public health practitioners in the fight with us. And finally, they come up for us, too. We get sick. We have family emergencies. We have to prepare for extreme weather.

I think business owners/CEOs/Executive Directors (you know, the people “in charge”) sometimes lose sight of the difference between urgent and important because it’s personal. It’s theirs, or at least they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens. But getting and maintaining clarity on what is actually urgent in a sea of very, very important things is critical to treating your team, clients, customers—and yourself—as human.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.