Is It Urgent?

To some extent (some of us more so than others), we all procrastinate or put off things. Sometimes, the task is important or urgent, and sometimes it is not. Often, we will do the not so important or not so urgent task first because…?   Our brain tells us to!

In a recent New York Times article, “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks”, Tim Herrera (July 9, 2018) explains that the “urgency effect” in our brains tells us “…to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term rewards.” (Id.)  He points to the famous marshmallow experiment in which a marshmallow (or a cookie) is placed in front of a child who is told that if she can wait 15 minutes, she can have not one but two marshmallows. The adult then leaves the room and watches to see how much self-control the child has:  can she hold out for 15 minutes for two marshmallows or does she eat the one sitting squarely in front of her immediately?  This test is supposedly designed to test willpower or self-control; if the child is disciplined enough to sit the fifteen minutes to gain the second marshmallow, then supposedly, as an adult, she will be disciplined enough to hold out for long term (and more rewarding) gains in her career rather than taking the immediate (and less rewarding) gain. (However, a more recent study puts this conclusion in doubt, indicating that a child’s ability to hold out for the greater reward has more to do with her social and economic background than willpower.)

But… back to procrastination.  Research indicated:

people may choose to perform urgent tasks with short completion windows, instead of important tasks with larger outcomes, because important tasks are more difficult and further away from goal completion, urgent tasks involve more immediate and certain payoffs, or people want to finish the urgent tasks first and then work on important tasks later.

In other words: Even if we know a larger, less-urgent task is vastly more consequential, we will instinctively choose to do a smaller, urgent task anyway. Yet again, thanks for nothing, brain. (Id.)

How to deal with it? Well… recognize what you are doing. And ask yourself whether it is truly important or not so important and whether it is truly urgent or not so urgent. The author suggests using a box created by former President Eisenhower to figure this out:

Use the 'Eisenhower Box' to Stop Wasting Time and Be More Productive


Once you have categorized the task, figure out whether to put it at the top of your “To Do” list or at the bottom. If the task still seems overwhelming, break it into smaller parts or “baby steps” and then tackle each small step one at a time. (Id.)

How does this relate to disputes? Easily!  Disputes are generally distasteful and no one enjoys being in one. Consequently, we will often put the “dispute” in the “not important”, “not urgent” box, when we should do just the opposite.  We know deep down that the dispute has vast consequences, but to avoid the “unpleasantness” of “dealing with “it” and the other disputant, we will put it off, spending our time on something far less consequential.

Instead, use the box above to categorize the dispute. No doubt, your inner voice will tell you  not only is it urgent, but also extremely important to resolve it and to do so, now! Otherwise, it will only fester and grow much worse with time.

…. Just something to think about.



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Copyright 2018© Phyllis G. Pollack and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Phyllis G. Pollack and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

By |2018-07-20T10:40:28+00:00July 20th, 2018|Research|1 Comment

About the Author:

Phyllis Pollack
Phyllis G. Pollack, Esq. the principal of PGP Mediation (, has been a mediator in Los Angeles, California since 2000. She has conducted over 1700 mediations. As an attorney with more than 35 years experience, she utilizes her diverse background to resolve business, commercial, international trade, real estate, employment and lemon law disputes at both the state and federal trial and state appellate court levels. Currently, she is the in­coming chair of State Bar of California’s ADR Committee. She has served on the board of the California Dispute Resolution Council (CDRC) (2012­2013), is a past president and past treasurer of the SCMA Education Foundation (2011­2013) and a past president (2010) of the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA). Ms. Pollack received her BA degree in sociology in 1973 from Newcomb College of Tulane University and her JD degree from Tulane University School of Law in 1977. She is an active member of both the Louisiana and California bars. Pollack believes that it is never too late to mediate a dispute and recommends mediation over litigation as it allows the parties to decide their own solutions.

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  1. Is It Urgent? | Updates By Suzanne July 20, 2018 at 9:34 am

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