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Neither important nor urgent

Kathy Werner
Posted 9/3/21

I’m a person who works best under pressure. I love (and need) deadlines. I want to know what the absolute drop-dead due date is for something because I will usually find something else to do …

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Neither important nor urgent

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I’m a person who works best under pressure. I love (and need) deadlines. I want to know what the absolute drop-dead due date is for something because I will usually find something else to do right up until the last minute.

I think those things I find to do are called displacement activities by those in the know. The Cambridge Dictionary online defines a displacement activity as“an unnecessary activity that you do because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult or unpleasant activity.”

For example, today I cleaned out four junk drawers in my dresser when I really should have been composing this column. I’ve been known to bake cookies, go shopping, or get lost in a book when I am up against a deadline on a big project.

Not the best strategy, I know, but there it is. And somehow, some way, I usually manage to get the deadlined task completed in a relatively timely fashion.

Of course, I am not above lying to myself about the true due date for a project. I will sometimes add it to my calendar, making it due days earlier than it really is. And because my memory is not what it once was, I often trick myself into getting it done early. Go figure.

The toughest tasks are those without a due date. I once took a time management course in which the instructor told us to make a list of everything—and I mean everything—on our To-Do lists. We just did a big brainstorm of all the things hanging over our heads.

Then she had us separate them into one of four categories: Important and Urgent; Important-But-Not-Urgent; Not-Important-But-Urgent; and Not Important and Not Urgent. I found this exercise very helpful and eye-opening. I did have a huge number of things to accomplish but sorting them out by degrees of importance and urgency made them more manageable. Plus, I’ve always loved a checklist.  

On the Important and Urgent list, I put items like writing this column. Important-But-Not-Urgent tasks included deep cleaning my office. Not-Important-But-Urgent jobs included changing the dogs’ water. And finally, Not Important and Not Urgent were such things as cleaning out my dresser drawers. Naturally, just putting all those jobs on lists did not mean that I accomplished all of them. I know that there are some items on the Important-But-Not-Urgent list that I still haven’t done.

But how fitting that my displacement activity today was a classic entry in the Not Important and Not Urgent category. I guess that’s what makes it a true displacement activity.

I need to do the task-sorting exercise again and see what new items might appear in that unimportant and non-critical category. I am always in search of new entertaining displacement activities.

Comments

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Don

People in the know know you are just procrastinating. You're old enough to know that aren't you? Displacement activities, good grief!

Wednesday, September 8