Work that is both urgent and important feels great. It commands your attention, and because it is urgent, it feels good to rush towards the sound of the guns. Because the work is important, there is no denying that it deserves your full attention. And when you complete urgent work, you feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction. You have done good work, and you have saved the day.
Work that is important—but not urgent—doesn’t feel quite as good. It feels like you aren’t working hard because the work is missing the urgent component. You think your effort should really be better placed somewhere else, like it should be directed at something more urgent. When you complete important work, you don’t feel the same sense of satisfaction as when you complete something that is important and urgent.
There was no fire that was put out, no lives saved, no one rescued.
Because urgent and important work can give you a greater sense of accomplishment, it is more seductive. It’s also more destructive. Urgent work can draw your time and attention away from your highest priorities. And so your highest priorities, the work that is important but not urgent, suffer from neglect. And this neglect begins the cycle anew.
How You Create Urgency
Think back over your last couple days of work. Try to recall all of the things that you did that required your attention because they were urgent. Now consider this: If you had done the work that was important—but not urgent—would your attention have been required? Would you have had to deal with so much urgency?
It’s easy to answer this question in the affirmative. If it was urgent, of course it needed your attention. But don’t be so quick to rush to judgment.
Was the client problem that found it’s way into your inbox really an urgent problem because it was something new, a novelty? Or was that client problem really something that might have been easily solved by someone that had the necessary training or the necessary experience? Was it your lack of training or your poor hiring practices that were really to blame? Who created the urgency?
Is the help your operations team needs urgently due to the fact you didn’t bring them into the sales process early enough or because your handoff wasn’t what it should have been? Did you create your own urgency?
If your sales manager is pressing you for your reports because you didn’t do the important routine maintenance of maintaining your sales force automation, did you not create your own urgency? Perhaps you couldn’t do the routine maintenance because you working on something that was urgent? Why so much urgency?
Much of the urgency in our lives is caused by our lack of focus on what is important and not urgent. We cause our own urgency. And we can stop creating more urgency as soon as we stop long enough to do what is really important. Doing what is really important and proactive makes for less urgency later.
How much of your time is spent on things that are urgent?
How much of your time is spent on things that are important, but not urgent?
What urgent demands could you eliminate in the future if you made time to do what is really important?
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