Urgent vs. Important

One of the most common challenges I have observed in businesses of varying shapes and sizes is that of managing time/resources effectively to get the job(s) done.  The “to-do list,” I’ve realized in my time as an operator, is always longer than the hours in a day, and that’s a good great thing in most cases. This is especially true in new or growing enterprises. 

However, all of that thinking and worrying and busying oneself all day can be exhausting and doesn’t get a whole lot done. It’s possible to trick ourselves into thinking that we have been hard at work all day when, in fact, we’ve accomplished very little. Activity and execution are not the same. The distinction between thinking about what needs to happen and doing what needs to be done separates the professional from the amateur.

Schedule it Out

“To know and not to do, is not to know at all.”

People (from all professions) seem to derive a sick pleasure from commiserating about how much they have to do, and the scarcity of time they have to do it—almost pridefully for some? The fact of the matter is there are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in each week for everyone, everywhere, regardless of how you pitch it. Whether you are a world memory champion or can’t remember if you locked your front door this morning (did you btw?!), you’re invariably stealing brain power from problem solving, creativity and a present mindset when you are keeping a dozen to-dos in your mind rather than on paper, a smartphone, or your computer.

When everything you need to do is scheduled at a specific time, you eliminate the worry of trying to remember because you know you’ve carved out time for each of the things that are important to you, which leads to better efficiency. By scheduling your time, it is easier to micro-manage yourself.  You won’t lag or waste time when you are doing something because you don’t want to mess up the rest of your schedule and perhaps, most importantly, you won’t “FORGET” to get things done. 

In the modern era of Siri, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and virtually free data storage any and everywhere, there is no reason why you would “forget” something. It’s like being late in L.A. because of “traffic”—c’mon, there is always traffic. Where some create trouble for themselves is in that itty, bitty space between knowing they need to do something and putting it on a schedule.

Understand the quadrants:

Try to lump all of the things you have done in the last week or two into one of the four quadrants below based on their level of importance and urgency (some examples are included). You’ve likely seen this before…

As the graphic indicates, Quadrant 2 is where our time is best spent; on things that are highly important, but not incredibly urgent. Typically this is a result of many cycles of effective time management and the ability to continually get things done. Quadrant 1 is described as the “quadrant of necessity” and needs to be managed thoughtfully. Quadrant 2 is that of “quality” and should be focused on diligently.

Quadrants 3 and 4 are known as “deception” and “waste” respectively. Not surprisingly these are the areas that we can (and should) work to avoid. Take mental note over the next few weeks as you move through your life and business and ask yourself which quadrant you’re currently operating in and how you feel about that. Take note of what “needs” you have in your business and which quadrant they land in.

There are thousands of amazing technologies out there to assist you in setting and maintaining a schedule. What’s more important than which platform you use is that you actually use anything at all and prioritize based on what’s important over the long-term, not simply urgent at the moment.

“Quadrants” based on Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Free Press, 2004, orig 1989), 151.

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