Urgent vs Important: Know the Difference

(Originally published in aspIRe magazine, Issue 19)

joseph bismark on urgent vs important

Sometimes, we say something we don’t really mean. We don’t even rethink it.

If I ask, ‘Is life important to you?’, you will say ‘yes’. If so, health would be too, right? And if health is important, then so are diet and exercise; but only few of us eat and exercise properly every day.

Many of us consume processed and fast foods that are convenient for life on the go, or because we perceive them as delicious. We don’t exercise because there are more important tasks, errands and obligations that require our time, or simply because exercising requires too much effort. Our list of reasons is endless.

This is where we should apply the Eisenhower Principle. In his 1954 speech, former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This is the principle that enabled him to organise his workload and priorities.

According to the website differencebetween.net, the urgency of a task is largely governed by deadlines whereas the importance of a task is decided by the impact or significant change created. Urgency is driven by external factors like deadlines whereas importance is a more introspective exercise. What you consider important can differ from what others consider as important.

What we find difficult to grasp is that things that are most important are not urgent.

Proper diet and exercise are not “urgent” things to do, but you know they’re the most important in your life. We can always postpone our exercise routine or not do it at all. The next thing we know, we’re gaining weight and falling sick because of our sedentary lifestyle. Spending quality time with our loved ones is of utmost importance but other so-called urgent activities get in the way – and they are always going to be there anyway. The next thing we know, our loved ones start to drift away from us and relationships suffer.

We suffer because we don’t prioritise health and relationships. We prioritise activities that we think are urgent, like being competitive at work, paying bills on time, giving in to peer pressure and influences and cultivating habits that make us feel good for the moment but don’t help us in the long run.

We get caught up in things that are urgent but not important because we always fail to plan – time is the biggest factor here. While it’s true that managing time is difficult, it’s easy to manage the events and activities that make up our time by asking ourselves, ‘what is important?’ The more we plan, the less urgent matters we have to deal with and we can focus on what’s important.

It always pays to be truthful to ourselves. What is urgent? What is important? We should strive to schedule our tasks and activities based on their importance and urgency. This is how we can achieve a well-balanced life.


READ ALSO: My Health and Wellness Tools 

The Ant and the Grasshopper

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.

Indian Version

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant’s a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

Read the rest of the satirical piece here.

Continue reading

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

Number 47

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

Until a few years ago, I was always rather confused when it came to the old adage ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. It perplexed me that a single piece of practically weightless straw could do such damage to the desert’s equivalent of a monster truck. It wasn’t until I travelled to the Middle East and asked one of the locals about the actual meaning of this saying that I came to understand the true depth of the phrase.

I was told that apparently, a straw really did break a camel’s back. The camel had been piled up with so many loads of bags, sacks, pots, rugs and other items that when the final handful of straw was placed on top, the camel simply collapsed.

I often feel just like that fully laden camel must have felt. There are times when I feel like I am so heavily loaded with not sacks of rice and bags of wheat like the camel, but with approaching deadlines, feelings of frustration, organisational disagreements, differing of opinions and so on. And there seems to be a reverse correlation between the heavier my load gets and the less I express my frustrations. Because unlike the camel, I have the ability to express the reasons why my ‘back is breaking’ and do something about it. It all comes down to another adage: Confront or Conflict.

Never be afraid to confront issues before they become conflicts, especially if the other person involved is a close friend, colleague or relative. True friends are those who tell you how they really feel. We may hear good news every day from strangers, but it takes a true friend to be comfortable enough to confront you with your best interests at heart.

Before our load becomes too heavy, we must try to remember that if someone’s actions are causing us frustration, or if a friend, family member or colleague is doing something that annoys us, we must confront the issue before it turns into a conflict. In other words, we must speak up before a whole lot of issues build up on our back to the point where one small and somewhat insignificant matter becomes our proverbial ‘straw’. There is a limit to how much people can bear, we must be vocal about this limit.

Please take a moment to ponder… if we do not confront what is annoying us, it will inevitably lead to conflict. And if we are confident enough and comfortable enough to confront those things, then we must remember that it is the issue, not the person, that we are confronting.

Improve your management and leadership style; enhance your communication skills; and resolve the issues that are piling up and becoming a burden. Confront or you will conflict.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

The Curse of Complexity

Number 46

The Curse of Complexity

The year 2009 has now dawned and we find ourselves looking straight down the barrel of another long, busy year ahead. With this realisation, it is only natural that we are now all striving to ‘get our houses in order’, so to speak, and are shifting through the many physical, mental, financial, tangible and intangible facets of our convoluted, complicated lives.

As I was doing this myself – wading through the mountains of responsibility in my mind; making mental notes to myself as to what I hope to achieve and when I must achieve it by; mentally calculating just how much it seems to cost these days in order to simply live, as opposed to a few short years ago – I found myself seriously pondering the thought: “How and when did my life get so complicated?” And I realised that it wasn’t just my life that was complicated, but life in general. When did the ‘day-to-day’ become so contorted with complexity and confusion?

Once I had started this line of thought, I just couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking more and more about the path that we, as human beings, have taken from simple, community-based societies that used to manage just fine without computers, electricity, common conveniences, huge egos, overwhelming ambitions, unnecessary stress, ready-made food, a houseful of material possessions, and so on.

We, as people, survived just fine without the many complications of today. Life was simple, but it worked and we were happy. But if the complications of today, on which we have learned to utterly rely on, were suddenly taken away, in what state would that leave us?

What if we woke up tomorrow and there was no more electricity? How would we maintain our complicated lives? How would we maintain our society or maintain general civic order? I remember the catastrophe of looting, violence and chaos that sprung from the natural devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005. The city was cut off from electricity for days, was without communication, and at least one whole day passed without any access to drinking water. Hurricane Katrina struck on 29 August 2005, and by the very next day, the city had collapsed into a state of looting and desperate measures by ordinary folk trying to survive without the ‘complications’ they had come to depend upon. Police and rescue teams were forced to split their resources between saving victims of the hurricane, and upholding law and order amongst all the plundering and crimes in the streets. After one day of no electricity – a modern complexity – and that is what happened. The situation saddened me and scared me.

How can we get ‘back to basics’ and simplify our lives? How can we ‘de-clutter’ ourselves and revive the Earth? How can we learn to remove the complexity of our everyday existence and get back to what matters? If we look through ancient times, we see that as civilizations are created and subsequently grow, it is ultimately their increasing complexity that spells their demise. Today, within our own modern, technological civilization, it just might be that we have reached the end of the line, and the compounding complexities of civilizations past, combined with our own, may in fact cause an end to it all, with no hope for this civilization to survive, nor for another civilization to grow in its place.

Please take a moment to ponder… If we continue to complicate our lives with material things and needless thoughts; if we continue to use energy as though it were unlimited; if we insist on burning through our natural resources as if they will never run out; and if we constantly jeopardise our own future by failing to secure provisions for the future, then our lives will grow ever more complicated and the Earth will become totally smothered and suffocated by complexity.

Within our own company, we can help to minimise the effect our own business complexities have on the environment. Turn off the light when you leave the office, and try to use natural light whenever you can. Think before you print that email, report, information sheet, etc. Use both sides of your paper. Ask yourself if you really need the air-conditioner or the heater. Try to catch public transport to work, or ride a bike to improve your own fitness at the same time. Use products that are made from recycled materials. These ‘green’ measures also work in your home activities.

In our own personal lives, we can try to minimise the complications we face by sticking true to the mantra made famous by Richard Carlson: Don’t sweat the small stuff. We can de-complicate our lives by coming to a realisation about what really matters. In the long-term, material wealth is elusive, but spiritual wealth is paramount and enduring. Spend time with the people who are important to you, and relieve yourself of time spent on wasteful activities.

Break yourself free of the complex ties that bind you to a mindless, consuming life. Open your eyes, smell the roses, and flush yourself of your life’s complexities. We’ll all be better for it.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

Resolution for the New Year!

Number 45

Resolution for the New Year!

A sincere Happy New Year to all! If you have made it this far, it means that you have another chance to make it right and better your life this year in 2009.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I always get so excited receiving a New Year calendar or diary. I can’t wait to begin January 1st so I can list down all the things I would like to do. Many things on this list are things that I was not able to do last year, nor a year ago. Who knows how long I have been trying schedule a daily routine of exercise, learning a language, reading a book, building a relationship and so on…

What is amazing and also sad is that my calendar would only reach February and then the diary starts becoming scratch paper, where I write down notes and scribble down ideas. It seems like the days move faster than I can fill them up with appointments and activities, these things that I fail to have time to do. And when I fail to meet the times in my diary, I feel so guilty until I reach that point that I can’t bear to write a schedule into my diary anymore. Then I end up simply using my diary to make notes.

I am sure that I am not alone here and that most of you are in a similar situation. So, on this day, the first day of the New Year, I ask myself, “How do we actually keep up with time which moves so fast and manage to do all the important things that we want? We still need to be able to live a life without having to stress ourselves in rushing against time to catch up on the things that need doing.

The day, despite having only 24 hours, is perfect. Let’s not try to add to that, nor feel that the hours are not enough to do the things you want. All you need to do is not manage time but manage the events of the day. The day, although comprised of time, is also comprised of events. And events are more important that time. Time will be almost impossible to manage as it moves on and waits for no one. But your events can be moved around ever-moving time to suit us all perfectly. All you have to do is to be flexible with your events and make sure that those events fill out days. I have categorised events into three main sections:

1. The Important Matters
2. The Matters of No Importance
3. The Urgent Matters

The Important Matters

What are the important matters? I think of the important things as being the events that will be good for me, my family, and for others in the long-term. The things important to me are religion, love, relationships, health, wealth, community service etc.
These things are all important, but most of them seem to take a lesser priority against meeting with our daily matters, when we think about it, are really matters of no importance or urgent matters.

The Matters of No Importance

The way I see it, the matters of no importance are:
A. Gossiping, talking nonsense and criticism
B. Smoking and excessive drinking
C. Over-eating of unhealthy food

The Urgent Matters

Urgent matters are things that I failed to plan for in the past and are now catching up with me. These urgent matters force me into drastic measures and require me to call for help. These matters make me claim to others that they are ‘important’, like rental bills, credit card bills etc.

The thing to notice when looking at these three categories of events, is that the important matters are things important to your life, not just your day. By looking at it in this light, we come to the realisation that we are living a life, not just a day. Even when looking at my New Year calendar, although I am looking at a whole lot of days, I must remember that each day is not in isolation, but are small parts of my entire life.

If you write in your diary that at 6am you will exercise, but then you sleep in late, you feel guilty that you have not achieved what you wrote in your diary. You rush to get ready for work, have breakfast, and begin the next slot you have marked in your diary. The thing is, just because you didn’t manage to exercise in the allotted time, you must not feel guilty. Why not manage your events, rather than your time? Why not exercise later in the day? Look at your list of things to do and identify which are matters of no importance, which are urgent matters, and which are important matters.

It is the important matters and events that you should manage and treasure, so that just because you didn’t do an important event at a certain time it does not mean you forego the event.

Let us all take a moment to ponder… Live your life, not your day.

Take this opportunity to seize your New Year diary with hope and a sense of what it truly represents: a small chunk of your life full of events, not time. Use your time wisely, but manage your events as if your life depends on it… because your events are your life.

As Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

I wish you a happy and healthy life and a successful and prosperous New Year.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

Friday, 21 November, 2008

Living on Borrowed ‘Time’

The human population has come to an understanding and consensus about the existence of this elusive factor called ‘Time’. But what is amazing is just how little importance each of us actually places on managing whatever ‘Time’ we have available to us.

‘Time’ ticks on tirelessly and is always progressing relentlessly, representing our past, our present and our future all combined. Drastic changes to our world have taken place, and events have come and gone brought about by ‘Time’. Growth, maintenance and inevitable old age and death will come as our ‘Time’ in this world passes by and ends. ‘Time’ will continue on long after we have passed away.

We have made machines that we call watches to somehow keep track of, and mark the passing of, ‘Time’. We all know that ‘Time’ consists of the past, present and future; will continue to tick by; and has no mercy or regard for anyone, even a dying man.

So what are we doing about it?

Most of us try to bury ourselves with the shallow business of life so that we don’t have to stop and face the facts about our ‘Time’ until it hits us right in the face. In the case of a person finding out that he has cancer and has only six months to live, this person’s perspective on life will drastically change once knowing that he has only a small amount of allotted ‘Time’ left to live. His priorities will change and he will value every minute of that ‘Time’ in a very different manner than the rest of us who may take our ‘Time’ for granted. Spending this ‘Time’ uselessly will no longer be a luxury available to him. Do we have to wait for such an emergency notice before we start valuing and managing our time? Do you have a contract on how long you can stay on in this world?

Not everyone is so lucky to find out how much time they have left. For most people, there is no warning when time ceases to be available to them. It comes in one big bang and as one big shock.

“Wait, I am not ready! I still have a lot to prepare for! I have to tell my wife and kids that I love them! Oh wait, what will happen to my bank accounts? Who will take care of my family? Can I have more time?” This is the cry of the dying man.

Nobody likes to talk about this absolute end to our reality. We do not want to face it until it comes to face us at the very end. But is this the right way to deal with ‘Time’? Should we not be prepared to face it when our ‘Time’ ends? Should we not be ready, so that we won’t be sorry? Should we not use our ‘Time’ wisely, so we can help others and make a difference in the world?

Let us use our ‘Time’ to make the world a better place for future generations to live in. We should stop thinking that we will be here forever, so we can focus on the important facets of our lives:

Cultivation of spiritual knowledge, (Religion in the true sense) love, family, health, community service…

Please take some ‘Time’ to ponder and learn how to use your borrowed ‘Time’ wisely.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

Monday,17 November, 2008

Advice From the World’s Richest Man

For my Gems of Wisdom today I thought I’d share with you all some advice from the world richest man according to Forbes – Warren Buffet.


Here are some very interesting facts about the life of Warren Buffet (former second richest man who once donated $31 billion to charity), during a one-hour interview of him by CNBC (excerpts edited for clarity):

1. He bought his first share at age 11 and he now regrets that he started too late
2. He bought a small farm at age 14 with savings from delivering newspapers.
3. He still lives in the same small 3-bedroom house in mid-town Omaha that he bought after he got married 50 years ago. He says that he has everything he needs in that house. His house does not have a wall or a fence.
4. He drives his own car everywhere and does not have a driver or security people around him
5. He never travels by private jet, although he owns the world’s largest private jet company.
6. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns 63 companies. He writes only one letter each year to the CEOs of these companies, giving them goals for the year. He never holds meetings or calls them on a regular basis. He has given his CEO’s only two rules:

Rule number 1: Do not lose any of your shareholder’s money.
Rule number 2: Do not forget Rule number 1.

7. He does not socialise with the high society crowd. His past time after he gets home is to make himself some pop corn and watch television.
8. Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, met him for the first time only 5 years ago. Bill Gates did not think he had anything in common with Warren Buffet. So he had scheduled his meeting only for half hour. But when Gates met him, the meeting lasted for ten hours and Bill Gates became a devotee of Warren Buffet.
9. Warren Buffet does not carry a cell phone, nor has a computer on his desk.
His advice to young people: “Stay away from credit cards and invest in yourself”, and remember:

A. Money doesn’t create man but it is man who created money.
B. Live your life as simple as you are.
C. Don’t do what others say, just listen to them, but do what you feel is good.
D. Don’t go for brand names; just wear those things in which you feel is comfortable.
E. Don’t waste your money on unnecessary things; just spend on what you really need.
F. After all, it is your life, then why give others the chance to rule your life?”

Take a moment to ponder if you can also benefit from the insight of someone who has already achieved!


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

Monday, 10 November, 2008

What Does Raise Yourself To Help Mankind Mean to You?

Every now and then in life comes a time when we need to sit back and take stock, review where we are, how we got here and why we are here. I would like all of us to revisit our corporate credo and mission statement, so that we can assess and determine if we are still relevant as a corporate entity.

If we are not, I would like to hear from each and every one of you about how we may need to remodel our mission in order to remain relevant to the ever-changing world around us.

After all, we would not want to get left behind!

As QuestNet reaches the grand old age of ten this year, there is no better time to self-reflect on the journey. Remember that one of the central credos of QuestNet is RYTHM – Raise Yourself To Help Mankind… is this still relevant today? Or perhaps even more so given the current global climate?

QuestNet’s vision, mission and core values are defined as (how long has it been since you visited this page on our website?):


To be the No. 1 global e-marketing company by providing opportunities, creating success, and touching a billion hearts


To inspire people to help others through RYTHM (Raise Yourself To Help Mankind)

Core Values

– Truth
– Service
– Courage

I would like you to ALL take a moment and ponder… Why should we be proud to work for QuestNet? What areas of our business do we need to revisit, modify or change entirely? Please send me your replies directly.

Please let me know your thoughts, I am waiting for your responses and will be creating a future Gems of Wisdom from them.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

Tuesday, 28 October, 2008

Dealing with Difficult People

People who argue with you or have an opinion contrary to yours are what most of us would probably categorise as, and consider to be, difficult people.

Why are they difficult? Is it because they do not agree with your ideas? Because they do not wish to follow what you want them to do? Or do they simply see the world differently from you?

Then welcome to the real world! “Wake up and smell the coffee”, as the famous saying goes. You cannot just see the world through your own eyes. That would present a handicap. It is always better to see things from different angles and understand other perspectives. The world is multidimensional.

Why limit your vision to but one dimension, when you can see more dimensions by considering others’ points of view? Difficult people are like your sharpening stone (whetstone). The more you clash with them, the more you get to sharpen your skills, skills like patience and tolerance, while getting to practice managing your emotions as well.

This is a very important factor in decision-making. The only time you can make personal developments or improve on things is when you are put to the test… when you are being challenged by someone or something.

Perfection only comes after the long process of practice and through overcoming challenges. Take for example a raw diamond; its brilliance can only shine for all to see after continuous polishing and grinding with another diamond. A dull knife can only be sharpened by constant friction with a sharpening stone (whetstone). A steel rod must be hammered, heated, tempered and beaten into shape hundreds of times before it can be truly called a ‘Samurai Sword’.

So if you have difficult people around you, be grateful as the Lord sent them to you so you can improve and learn what you need to from them. Respect them and listen to the opposing views they may have to give you. Love them. Welcome their very being. If not for them, your brilliance may never shine. All you have to do in exchange is to eat a little humble pie. That’s all it takes to be able to deal with difficult people.

Please take a moment to ponder… Welcome difficult people. May they always be there to bring out your own excellence and widen your views. Do not run away from them. Do not hide. Do not be afraid to be challenged by them. Let them lead you. This is the way to perfection.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd