Urgent Illusions …


Noise of UrgentWe seem easily distracted or swayed by that which is urgent, don’t we? …

Now when a person’s life is in danger or damage to property looms, we ought to act decisively and quickly to protect people and things.  No question there.  When significant things are at stake, our actions are BOTH urgent and important.  

However, that’s not really the type of “urgent” we are talking about in the quote above, is it?

A good thing to keep in mind here:  We are talking about the MOST valuable use of YOUR time.  

A CRISIS TO ONE PERSON MAY ONLY BE AN INTERRUPTION TO ANOTHER.

“Urgent” things are those tasks we feel should take priority, not because of danger or potential loss of property, but because they claim our attention for reasons that do not meet the criteria of “Important”.  

For a clear short discussion of “Urgent” versus “Important”, read Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk and Tom Bartow, specifically page 36

In many cases, a thing is “Urgent” if …

SOMEONE WITH AUTHORITY TELLS US TO DO THE “URGENT”, RATHER THAN THE “IMPORTANT” …

Probably the most common excuse I hear offered for spending time on something other than your important things.  Now, the boss is the boss and you ultimately should either comply with legitimate requests by someone with legitimate authority.  

However, YOU are also responsible for defending your time clearly and articulately when it would be better spent doing something other than what you are being asked to do.

Intelligence Disobedience by Ira Chaleff has much, much more to say about how to respond as a follower to your leader.  We have more choice and more control than we may think.  It’s all in how we interact and communicate.

WE LIKE DOING THE “URGENT”, WHETHER WE ADMIT IT OR NOT …

Sometimes, if we are honest, we welcome the opportunity to do a thing because we enjoy doing it.   Much has been written about those who thrive when asked to drop everything and rush to the scene of a crisis to “save the day”  

If you are a First Responder (Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Technician, World Health Organization worker, or similar), this is the job.  However, for most who enjoy being cast in “savior” mode, it’s pure ego all the way.

WE HAVE CONDITIONED OURSELVES TO FOCUS ON “URGENT” …

To measure your susceptibility to this particular issue, just see how easy it is to resist answering a ringing phone or to turn off your computer (not just your email or social media feeds) for a specific time period.   

Most of us can handle this for a few minutes, but when we consider the time needed to work on “Important” stuff, we probablycome up short.   When you hear your phone ringing, imagine a room full of salivating dogs:)

WE WOULD OFTEN RATHER “FIGHT FIRES” THAN DO THE HARDER WORK OF “FIRE FIXING” …

Reacting to “Urgent but not Important” matters is often easier than doing the work of creating an important thing.   

For starters, when you are reacting to “urgent”, you are not usually expected to put in the hard work of long-term analysis or critical thinking and strategic analysis … you are just stopping the bleeding of something.

You are not addressing root causes or systemic issues, but simply keeping the cap on things, stopping the loss, or quickly disposing of the symptoms.

“Firefighting” might be more valued by the organization than things like designing buildings that will not catch on fire.

For those who like visuals, here is the classic Eisenhower Decision Matrix from First Things First by Stephen Covey:

Eisenhower Decision Matrix - Steven Covey

SO … WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?

Trying very hard to keep the Important ahead of the Urgent in the Heartland ….

John

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