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?

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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.

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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.

Regine

Pictures:
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