The Urgent Versus The Important: Urgent Wins Hands Down Every Time

Do you know anyone not rushing about regularly? Even teenagers attending school have joined the daily mad dash. Social networks, video games, and other activities have overtaken their lives. Excellent tools such as iPhones, iPads, and other gadgets with potential to help organize our priorities now drive busyness; we are slaves to these tools.After getting out of bed each morning, how long before you check your email, Facebook account, Twitter, or other site? I know; it is a struggle to leave the email, iMessage, or other communication tool until a set time you decide in advance.What are we going to do about this? We cannot continue with this busyness. It causes stress, leads to heart problems, inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, family challenges, and leaves folks unfulfilled while running around chasing their tails. Sure, we know we must distinguish between the urgent and important and work with priorities; however, how do we build these ideas in our day to get rid of the continuing stress? Folks tell me, they just don’t have time to stop?Think about it; we don’t have time! What a silly phrase we accept so we can deflect the problem from the main cause: me, you, each of us; it’s nobody’s fault but our own.Let me share what you know already, probably in a different form which, by God’s grace, might get your attention. We need to understand and develop working approaches to deal with the urgent and the important.The UrgentMany times the urgent appears convenient requiring little time, no preparation, and is one-off. Why not attend to it now? Several “convenient” urgent interactions will slaughter your priorities because each will require more time that you anticipated.We must identify and respond to urgent situations on our terms. Typically, the urgent means somebody is imposing on our time: boss, spouse, children, colleague, friend. The challenge is how to distinguish to which urgent items we should respond. Essentially, which imposition we must accept, and which we will choose to take. Here is my simplistic three-step suggestion.First, accept you can choose to reject many urgent requests.Second, decide that your default reaction to the discretionary urgent will be inaction. To help decide your final action, ask: what’s the result if I ignore this now? The phone is ringing at supper with your wife. You hear the email ‘dinging’ sound. Your colleague opens your office door unannounced with a ‘problem.’ Train yourself to process these from your default position in less than a minute, and learn when to say no, and when to say not now.Beware; there are non medical emergencies that suck you into action; they are disguised urgencies. Ask the same questions as before. You can plan to deal with many of these emergencies. You know they will happen, but you don’t know when: the car will need tires, need maintenance; the fridge will break. You can set aside funds for them regularly, and when they happen, a lack of funds won’t create an emergency. Do preventive maintenance, save systematically to repair and replace cars, stoves, and so on.Third, accept your seductive gadgets-phones, tablets, video game consoles-and social network sites, are significant time wasters. You can conquer these only if you decide never to use them unless you work for time. You must learn when to work for time and when to work for task. You work for time when you set specific start and end times for emails, Facebook visits, Twitter tweets, or other activities. You work for task when you work until you complete the job fully or until you decide to stop.Meetings are another urgent impostor. They devour time and lead you to conclude, “I don’t have time,” which is absurd. Always set start and end times, and prepare an agenda for each. Most meetings waste time, but nobody champions meetings’ eradication. Sometimes when an organization has too many people, one way to pass the time is to meet often.Watch out; the urgent is seductive, often appearing to need a little time and demanding minimal input.The importantUsually inconvenient and needs planning, the important is not as attractive as the urgent. Here is where your gadget tools can help set priorities. The important will need thought, reflection, and might give the impression you are not busy: you are not rushing about putting out fires. Unlike the urgent which is reactive, this is proactive. I think this is the significant reason people gravitate to the urgent and away from the important.Here is my three-step suggestion to work with the important.First, do not work with a to-do list. Have a list of projects from which daily you take at least one item and slot in your day timer. Set a specific time daily when you will meet with you to work on priorities. Do not accept calls or interruptions. Let others know this is your time; tell them you are dead. Something comes up, tell them they need to ask: what would they do if you were dead? Do it!Second, daily, look one week ahead to see how your schedule is going and what might need deferring to a precise later date to stay with current priorities. Identify specific projects, meetings, and affected parties and reschedule to a later time.Third, schedule your day with breaks between meetings and activities. Leave time in between for reflection and recharging, and to return important calls.SummaryYou have a choice. Continue rushing about; eventually you might get a heart attack, become a poor role model, or lose your job for ineffectiveness. Alternatively, decide to move away from allowing the often easy to handle urgent to the important that requires thought and reflection at a slower pace. You might do more productive and meaningful work in less time!Copyright © 2013, Michel A. Bell

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