The Urgent vs The Important

“We want it now! I want it yesterday, I want f**king more tomorrow, and the demands will all be changed then so f**king stay awake!” – Billy Connolly

If you ask me, this is the biggest stumbling block for early stage companies — the question of what is urgent and what is important.

Urgent = Immediately critical to the well-being of the company, the customers and the team
Important = Necessary and important longer-term building blocks to the stability and longevity of the company, team and customer relationships

Startups run on emotion and the things that are prioritized tend to come from the last conversations that were had. It’s almost the same as going grocery shopping while hungry — you end up making questionable decisions.

The best way to compartmentalize the urgent versus the important is by asking one simple question: “If we don’t do this right now what will happen to our customer/team/service” If the answer is nothing, it is not urgent. You need to be really brutal with this answer. Things tend to bleed into the urgent because of impatience and a lack of clarity when you answer this question.

I’ve been involved in startups for decades (sadly, very true) and I still fall victim to this dilemma. I’ve had great co-founders that keep me in check on this — impatience is a part of being a founder — but if you are your only voice of reason, here’s a sample check list to start thinking about what is urgent and what is important.


  • Critical bug fixes or issues preventing a customer from using your product
  • Responding to a customer support issue, complaint or challenge when using your product or service
  • Resolving any performance issues that impact the stability and/or usability of your product or service
  • Payroll


  • Strategic planning for the business
  • The product/service roadmap
  • Building a robust and scalable infrastructure
  • Funding

Despite the frantic pace of a startup and that feeling that it all has to get done right now or else you are doomed, everything can’t be urgent. Companies that seem all over the place are simply having a hard time distinguishing between urgent and important.