Must, Should, and Could

“So much to do, so little time.” Sounds familiar?

Although the number of hours in a day is finite, time actually flows infinitely from one moment to another. Each day, we are bestowed with another gift of 24 hours – a gift that we often take for granted whilst being caught up with the busyness of our daily lives.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”~ Seneca

Seneca reminded us of the importance of not wasting this precious gift. It’s helpful to begin by examining how we live an ordinary day, as how we live each day is how we live our lives. Our days are typically occupied by doing things to take care of our concerns – both major and minor. Make breakfast, finish a proposal, call a client, attend to a crisis at work, consult the dentist, pay utility bills, pick up kids from school, chair a board meeting, meditate, call mum, take a walk with spouse, exercise, etc.

But not all tasks are created equal. Some tasks matter more than others. Some are urgent, and some are not. And not all of them need to be completed on the same day. Distinguishing the importance and urgency of each task is vital, as Eisenhower has discovered. The urgent is often mistaken as important. Consider three categories of activities that will occupy your day.

  1. Must do – important and urgent tasks, that if not completed, will have severe undesirable consequences. Strive to do them all today so that we take care of our major concerns daily.
  2. Should do – important but not urgent tasks, that should be done today if possible or scheduled for another day, before they become urgent. Strive to do as many as possible today.
  3. Could do – unimportant tasks, that even if not completed today, will not have any severe undesirable consequences. Do them if you have time to spare, especially the urgent ones. If they are neither important nor urgent, it’s probably OK to leave them undone.

According to Tim Ferris, “lack of time is actually lack of priorities.” Perhaps the first ‘must do’ is to make time to sort out what we must do, should do, and could do, followed by channeling our attention and energy accordingly.