The Why of Important vs. Urgent

Last year I blogged in depth about Urgent vs. Important work. I explained what urgent and what important means, why urgent occurs (at least most of the time), and how to deal with it in a better and more productive way.

Doing some online research, I happened to come across a blog written by Seth Godin with almost the same title. He also makes a case for Important vs. Urgent work in one of his February 2017 blogs, but he gave it a different spin. Here it goes:

 “You know you should be focusing on the long-term journey, on building out the facility, signing up new customers or finishing your dissertation.

But instead, there’s a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so, you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent.

Of course, everyone has this challenge, but some people manage to get past it. Even you, the last time you made a major move forward. Think about it–those urgencies from a few years ago: who’s handling them now?

The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used [sic] to be, but we are now.

Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.

Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”

Which of the two is you? Take the time to find out and, I paraphrase: “Now that you know (..), (…) dance with it.”

If you don’t know Seth, here is his blog site. Check it out. It’ll be worth your time.

See you next time.

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

Quote by David McCullough

Thanks Pixabay and rawpixel for this beautiful picture.

Tying into last week’s blog, I thought this quote from well-known American author, narrator, popular historian and lecturer David McCullough may remind you that writing about or for your business may feel really hard, because it is. It is much easier to ramble on and on instead of searching for the right word. It is hard to compose a sentence or paragraph that tells your customer or client exactly what you want them to know. I certainly can relate.

Look at it as a work in progress and keep on trying to write your best. Find your own voice, your own style. It will help your clients or customers to get to know you and ultimately feel comfortable doing business with you.

Until next time!

Powerful Stories – Powerful Marketing

Do you have problems creating a compelling marketing message? If you do, keep on reading. The book “Building a Story Brand – Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller may be the solution you’re looking for.

To set the stage for the book, let’s step back for a moment and think about this question: Why do you love a book or movie?

Here are my reasons:
Good books and movies draw me in. They take me on an adventure, transport me into a different world, and I forget everything around me. I can’t wait to turn the page or see the next scene. Imagine Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings (yes, I do love fantasy books).

Robbi Vorhaus, a self-proclaimed Storytelling Evangelist describes it this way:
“When storytelling is great you magically connect the heart (emotion) and the head (thought), resulting in your audience experiencing – feeling – expressing – and acting – in the way you intended.”

So, how does this apply to marketing and increasing sales?
First some facts:

  • Facts tell, but stories sell. (author unknown)
  • Sales increase approximately 20-fold when a brand story is told well. (*1)
  • Despite what we are telling ourselves, we don’t buy based on logic – we buy based on how we feel and connect with a product or service, e.g. Apple products. (*2)
  • Storytelling enables marketers to develop deeper connections with their audience… (*3)
  • Great stories don’t appeal to our logic, but they often appeal to our senses. (*4)

Back to Miller and Story Brand. He wrote the book “Building A Story Brand…” describing a 7-step framework to create a story for any service or product. He explains each of the 7 elements in detail, their purpose, what to focus on, and, to make it tangible, he added a lot of examples. He also reminds us that, in order to have a clear message, we need to focus on one key service or product. If we attempt to cram too much into our message, we dilute it and lose customers as a result. The one-page Brand Script, which can be found on the author’s website under “Free Resources”, is a guide and abbreviated version of all 7 steps, ready to be used when needed.

Without further ado, let’s have a look at the 7 elements. I capitalized them so that they are easily spotted.

1. The CHARACTER aka your customer.

The question here is: What does your customer want? Use any piece of information you can get to better understand them. Start with some general information like age and gender, moving on to what they want, like, dislike; what’s important to them, to the point where you relate all these pieces of information to what they want from your product or service. The better you know and understand your customer, the better your message will be.

2. The PROBLEM or villain

What’s the problem your customer needs to solve? Your customer needs to survive, in a literal or figurative sense, or they need to strive by solving their PROBLEM. Based on Miller, problems are multi-layered, but the majority of marketing messages addresses only the most obvious layer: the EXTERNAL PROBLEM. Miller adds what he calls the INTERNAL PROBLEM or frustration with the status quo, and a PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEM or the question “why does it matter?”. Why is that important? Because based on research the real drivers behind purchase decisions are the internal and philosophical problem. Here an example to make it tangible: Imagine Tesla, the electric car company and a customer in need of a new car. The external problem is the need for a new car. The internal problem could be not wanting to drive a gas guzzler or spending too much money on gas. The philosophical problem is wanting a car that is eco-friendly.   

3. The GUIDE aka you or your product

As the GUIDE you have three tasks: Firstly, encourage your customer by solving their problem and helping them to succeed. How you accomplish this depends on your product or service and of course your personality. Secondly, you show empathy and understanding for their situation, their problem, or frustration. Put yourself in their shoes to make them feel “…heard, seen and felt.” (*5) Thirdly, demonstrate that you are the expert and authority who can help them solve their problem by using testimonials, statistics, awards, a portfolio…. to mention just a few.  

4. The PLAN

The PLAN explains the path to success. All business transactions contain the risk of loss, at least from the customer’s point of view. With your PLAN you have the opportunity to address, reduce or even eliminate the sense of risk related to your product or service. How? Offer a money-back-guarantee, list all customer concerns in a Q & A and show if x happens, we do y, provide some instructions on what to do before buying your product, or what to do after your customer has bought your product.


Miller considers the power of the CALL TO ACTION extremely underused to the detriment of the company’s bottom line. According to him a measured approach in all your marketing material will make a big difference. Depending on your product or service it could be a DIRECT CALL TO ACTION such as “order now”, “call now”, or a TRANSACTIONAL CALL TO ACTION offering a sample, a test run, or a freebie. The transactional call to action has the great advantage of allowing your customer to get to know you, your product, your work which helps them to develop trust, build a relationship and as a result, lessens the risk of loss.


Here our customer learns “What’s at stake for them?” Or what will they lose if they don’t buy your product or service. A cognitive psychological phenomenon lies behind this step called: Loss Aversion. In a nutshell: people tend to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. But, don’t be a fear monger. Think of this step as the salt in the soup. If you add to much you ruin it, if you add to little it tastes bland.


ENDS IN SUCCESS is the last element in the Story Brand framework and also known as “story gap”. Simply put, a story gap is the description of the before and after. It serves the purpose of showing your customer where you will lead them, what they will gain by buying your product or service. Your job is it to create a compelling and achievable future (or after) that your customer is keen on reaching. Nancy Duarte gives a great TED talk about story gaps and why they are so powerful. A little hint: one of the examples she uses is the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr.

Got curious? Grab the book. There is so much more in it and you’ll be able to create your own Brand Script. It’s fun and may help you think about marketing your product or service in a different way.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you think about Story Brand? What is your secret marketing weapon?

Until next time in my “Book Corner”

(*1) Digital Marketing Institute; Article: 6 Storytelling trends marketing leaders should know about.
(*2) A TEDx Talk Perth by Bernadette Jiwa
(*3) Forbes Online; Article: 3 Reasons why storytelling should be a priority for marketers
(*4) Seth’s Blog: Ode: How to tell a great story
(*5) Building A Story Brand, page 79

I’m not related, sponsored, affiliated nor do I receive any commission or other benefits from Story Brand. My intention it to share tools and ideas that I find interesting and helpful.

Darn, why did I say yes…


Yes-No w Person 3100993

Do you know this feeling? A friend, family member or colleague asks you for a favor or help and without even thinking about it you say yes. Five minutes later you get an unsettling feeling in your stomach and you regret it.

Truth be told, you have enough on your plate as it is, right? Who doesn’t? We all have obligations and commitments at work, with our families and with our friends that more than fill our waking time. So why do we add more and more?

Yes, we want to be a good friend. We like to be helpful. We can’t let our family down. Therefore, we give up the time that we so desperately need to recharge our own battery, sleep a couple of hours more, or work on something that is important to us or our business. As a result, we feel stressed and overwhelmed – we over-committed. We oblige to do more than we are capable of (Oxford Dictionary, paraphrased).

In an article of Psychology Today over-committing is described as the “consequence of poor limit setting”. It particularly mentions women who “…are socialized to be helpful, accommodating, and polite in groups. If they can help out, they are taught that they should, even if it pulls them away from something they’re already doing or something they really wanted to do.” If they don’t, they are considered heartless and selfish.

Let’s turn that around for a second. What would change if we looked at it as an investment? I got this idea from a Harvard Business Review article that mentioned a book titled “How to Invest Your Time Like Money”. I thought this is a fabulous title because time, like money, is a precious commodity.

With this in mind, how can you avoid over-committing yourself?

I found the best way is to train yourself to take a moment and engage your brain before saying yes. Don’t be offended, but that is exactly what we don’t do. Most of the time internalized patterns rule our response. Engaging the brain sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the devil lies in the detail, because as we all know, old habits die hard.

I made it a rule to defer my answer to a later time, especially when it is a bigger time commitment. It is easy to say, “I’ll get back to you later, I have to check my calendar or with my spouse, children […]”, fill in the blank. It’ll break your ‘yes-pattern’ and allows you to ask some simple questions to help you make the right choice.

  1. Is this really one of my priorities?
  2. If I say yes to this commitment, what do I have to kick off my list? What do I have to give up for it? (I wrote a blog about this late last year.)
  3. Will it be a “hell yes” or at least a resounding yes?
  4. Do I have the time and energy to do it?

If you find out that it is not what you should say ‘yes’ to, there is always a gracious way to say no. Or you may be able offer a different solution?

Now you may come back and say, hold on for a sec. If a friend is in need or a family member needs a hand I can’t say no. I absolutely agree, there are situations when you feel obliged to help, no matter what. But, be honest with yourself, that is only a fraction of the many times you are asked, right?

Remember: “When you give a knee-jerk ‘yes’, all the time you’re valuing the time and happiness of others over your own. Ultimately, it’s the recipe for resentment, exhaustion, and burnout.” (paraphrased: Dr. Frank Lipman, Be Well Blog) And that doesn’t help anybody, least of all you.

Take good care of yourself and say ‘no’ more often.

Urgent vs. Important

When presented with the choice to attend to something ‘urgent’ vs. something ‘important’ what do you do? I bet most of the time you will drop everything and take care of the urgent. It is a natural response. If something is urgent it has to be done right away, doesn’t it? And what does this have to do with your productivity?

Let’s have a closer look. What does urgent mean and what does important mean?

05 Urgent note-2762271_1920

Urgent by nature is something that pops up unexpectedly. It is something we hadn’t planned or even considered doing at a particular day or time (assuming you plan your days 😉).

In many cases, dare I say most cases, it is something we forgot to do or take care of earlier on. Or we just didn’t feel like doing it when there still was time and now… it is urgent because we are running out of time (also known as procrastination). Or we never took the time to plan a project with its many steps and possible hurdles. Many of these ‘urgent scenarios’ are the consequences of poor planning and/or procrastination; sometimes our own, sometimes someone else’s. Most could have been prevented with a little effort, either our own or someone else’s.

Of course, (really) urgent stuff or (really) urgent situations exist. Despite our best efforts, we cannot foresee everything and cannot plan for everything. Unexpected things can and will happen: you may be called to a family emergency, you may have a crucial member of your team call in sick… you get the picture.

The difference between the two: the first ones were preventable, the second ones weren’t.


Important on the other hand is a deliberate action that moves you, your business, your relationship, or anything else for that matter to the next level. It leads to progress in an area you decided to work on and devote your attention to. It may be working on a project, it may be preparing a product launch, it may be doing something for your family. No matter which area of your life or business we are looking at, it implies taking the next step.

I don’t mean to imply that paying your bills or getting your car serviced isn’t important in terms of preventing you from adverse effects or harm. I consider paying your bills or arranging for a car service or scheduling a doctor’s appointment ‘mundane work’. It can easily be scheduled at a time that is convenient and, most importantly, does not interfere with your important work.

Do you see the difference between urgent and important? I believe it is obvious why telling one from the other is crucial. Far too often are we dragged into doing ‘urgent’ stuff that, truth be told, isn’t really our concern or at least shouldn’t be our concern. But how do you prevent yourself from jumping up when someone uses the word ‘urgent’ for a request?

Know and be clear about what is important to you. What kind of urgent is really ‘your’ urgent that you have or will attend to? What is aligned with your business, your life or whatever the circumstances. If you know, you have a choice. You decide whether or not to rush to the rescue.

So again, what does this have to do with productivity?

Very simple, rushing to the rescue takes time and energy, your time and your energy. It disrupts your day and quite possibly creates the next ‘urgent’, and the next, and the next. Urgent takes away the time you need for your own business, your family, your friends, yourself. Instead of focusing on your ‘important’, you allow circumstance to dictate where your time goes and that does have an impact on what you get done and what you will achieve.

Do you know what is important to you?
If you need help to figure it out, call me or shoot me an email.
Until next time.


Urgent: Asatira Astrid, Berlin/Deutschland
Important: Geralt Altmann, Freiburg/Deutschland

Saying YES to one thing means saying NO to something else.

This sounds simple and like a no-brainer, but listening to people around me, especially this time of year, I hear them say things like: ‘I have to catch up on my work’ or ‘there are not enough hours in a day’ or ‘I am so behind…”.

I do realize that the holiday season poses some additional challenges, but honestly, are you always up-to-date with your work? I for one struggle with this problem occasionally. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer thought of the mountain of work ahead of me and, at the end of the day, I feel I haven’t done enough. My to-do list doesn’t seem to get shorter, but longer instead.

Most of the time, our natural response to this conundrum is to try and be even more effective, more productive and to manage time even better. To squeeze every minute out of a day to get done what is on our to-do list. But what exactly does this mean ‘being more effective, or more productive, or managing our time better?’ We all have (only) 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, period.

I am pretty sure you believe that you are a good planner when it comes to your time and work. So why doesn’t it work?

Based on my experience and by observing people at work, there are a couple of components that contribute to this problem:

  • Lack of clarity
  • Working on ‘urgent’ stuff vs. ‘important’ stuff
  • Distractions
  • Overcommitting
  • Over-planning

Let’s tackle the most obvious culprit first: Distractions.

Now you will argue that distractions can’t be avoided. I totally agree. There are emails to reply to, text messages to respond to, phone calls to take, colleagues, kids, friends or family members to answer to…. I get the picture. In short, you start working on an important project and just when you got into the groove…. the phone rings, or a message pops up on your computer screen, or your mobile phone buzzes with a new Social Media message.

Did you notice something? All of these distractions can be controlled by you. It is your choice to respond right away and allow others to control your day, or you can curb these distractions as best as you can. How? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Silence your phone for a period of time and focus on your work/project.
  • Turn off screen messages on your computer. Nothing is that important that it can’t wait for 90 minutes.
  • Close your office door to signal that you don’t want to be disturbed.
  • Put a sign up ‘please do not disturb’.
  • Put headphones on to show your colleagues ‘please don’t disturb me’ if you are working in a cubicle.
  • Create a rule or sign that your family knows you don’t want to be disturbed if you are working in a home office. Your kids could craft that sign for you .
  • Turn off your TV or radio.
  • Turn off your Social Media alerts.
  • Maybe the most important step: reflect on the flow of your day and plan your important work at a time that you can focus uninterruptedly.

You will be amazed how much you will get done if you devote 100 percent attention to your work or project. If you are not used to focusing for a longer period of time, start easy. Sometimes 20 minutes is all it takes to move a project forward. Sometimes you may need more time. The golden rule, if you will, is everything within 20 to 90 minutes. After 90 minutes you should take a break. Get up and stretch your legs, get a cup of coffee or tea or simply enjoy that you made some major progress.

But, if you can’t avoid an interruption because your boss is calling or it is something ‘very urgent’ (I will write about ‘urgent’ in another blog), by all means, deal with it as quickly as possible and get back to your ‘focus work’.

I hope this gave you some food for thought. What will you stop doing to cross something off of your to-do list? Do you have other suggestions? I would love to hear from you.

To more great work (borrowed from Michael Bungay Stanier)!                                                  Regine