Important vs. Urgent
We are so consumed with our day-to-day that we sometimes fall into a zombie-like status of being busy. We run around fitting all that is possible into 12 hour workdays and finish most evenings knackered, but not necessarily getting the feeling that we truly accomplished something. That we added value today. And so we go to bed planning the things we need to get done tomorrow, slighty frustrated and hoping the cycle won´t repeat itself. Most days it does, though.
The “disease” of being busy is contagious and spreading fast. “I really have no time for this now” is the standard answer that pops up in our heads when another task is put onto our already full plates. Jet most of the times, we give in and add it the endless To Do List.
Juggling around priorities becomes an art and doing it daily, weekly, monthly an absolute necessity. But why are some of us so bad it?
After years of watching people around the workplace, I have come to the conclusion that many confuse the “important” and the “urgent” and tend to prioritize the latter. By doing so they will always dance to somebody else´s flute. Usually to others who prioritize their own agendas, have strong demands and get more attention, be it because of their position in the organization or just because of their loud nature.
We are prone to accept all sort of interferences and distractions from them in the form of emails, phone calls, even chat messages that divert us from focussing on our important tasks. It has become an expectation that people respond immediately just because they see that you are “online”. No, I am not “in a meeting” or “away from my desk”, I am just trying to get some work done…
Open space offices have also promoted people to just casually show up at your desk, wait there until you look up (already loosing your concentration) and then ask you: “oh sorry to interrupt you, can I just quickly ask you something…” And without giving you a chance to respond, they launch into an unscheduled mini-meeting that completely throws you off track.
So how can we get some focus back on an everyday basis that allows us to finish the day knowing that we have actually accomplished something?
DETERMINE WHAT IS IMPORTANT: verbalise your objectives and goals clearly and in writing. Have them physically somewhere where you can see them black on white in front of you. Then derive weekly, daily actions. Again write them down, put them in order and get relentlessly onto them. If something comes up during the day really consider if it is linked to or if it will allow you to achieve your goals better and faster and therefore worth your energy and attention.
PRIORITIZE: tackle your important daily items first, especially if these are the most difficult or daunting ones. A classic example, although not work related, is the “trying to get fit objective” and the action to “exercise daily”. Do it first thing in the morning, no matter how painful this may be at first. You know tha won´t do it later in the day because everything else will get in the way and because you will come up with a 1000 excuses not to.
SAY NO: we have a natural aversion to say “no” to people. We want to please and help wherever we can and that is good. But not always. It can really backfire if it distracts you from what is important to you. It is OK to say “no” or “not now” from time to time, obviously in a professional way. The more you do it, the easier it will come after a while. People will also come to understand that you are not automatically always available and value your time and dedication even more on those occasions when you say “yes”.
SLOW DOWN: Ironically sometimes, the more you hurry, the slower you get there. Slowing down a bit can work miracles. Allow yourself a more time to do the important things properly without rushing and looking at the clock. Try to aim for less but better quality outcomes. Shorten your To Do List and when you are done with it, stop and enjoy the fact that you have accomplished what you had set out to do today. You will be more pleased with your contributions and others probably, too.