Do you ever wake up thinking your day will turn out one way, and it ends up being completely different? Did you ever ask yourself why? Is it because you become blindsided by events or because other people hijack your day with their priorities? It’s fine if it happens once in a while, but it’s a problem if it’s an everyday occurrence.
What percentage of your day do you spend putting out fires rather than addressing things you consider important? In other words, why does everything have to be an emergency?
Is It Urgent or Important?
When someone says that something’s urgent, they’re implying that it must be done NOW. On the other hand, important items don’t always have immediate deadlines — because they tend to be long-term in nature. They focus on your mission, values, and long-term priorities. As such, people tend to focus on urgent tasks at the expense of important ones.
Case in point: If a friend gets into a tussle with a colleague and needs your advice ASAP, should you drop everything and return the call? Probably not. But people do it every day. On the other hand, as you approach middle age, it’s important to plan for your retirement. Can it wait? Sure. But it’s easy to put off that sort of thing until it’s too late to do anything about it. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
Some folks let emails, gossip, social media, and texts interrupt their day. Others allow their day to be thrown off track by other people’s emergencies. While it’s easy to blame lack of productivity on interruptions, fire drills, and problems that come out of left field, the real reason most stuff doesn’t get done isn’t due to external forces — it’s your own doing.
So, why do people gravitate to emergencies rather than important stuff? First, some folks try to please others — even if it’s at the expense of their own priorities. Second, some activities don’t have urgent deadlines, so they fly under the radar — out of sight, out of mind. Third, many of us want instant results. With that said, when we don’t see immediate progress, we abandon important initiatives and gravitate to urgent check-off items. The problem is, if you don’t focus on important things, they’ll become an emergency one day.
Make Time for What’s Important
Identify what matters most. Identify important long-term goals in your personal and professional life. (Consider areas such as mental, spiritual, financial, social, physical, leisure, health, and wellness.)
Establish your priorities. Overwhelmed? Clarify which items matter most. The key isn’t doing everything, it’s doing the right things.
Set ambitious yet realistic goals. Create goals and objectives. Answer three questions — What? When? How? Finally, determine how you’ll measure success.
Break long-term goals into short-term tasks. Don’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of each task. Big problems are best solved in small pieces.
Create a sense of urgency. Keep priorities top of mind. Set deadlines — even artificial ones.
Fight the urge to overthink everything. Some folks don’t know where to begin, so they don’t start. If you want to get anywhere, you must start somewhere.
Take baby steps. Incremental progress leads to long-lasting results. The key is to keep moving forward. Remember, small wins provide momentum while long-term goals enable you to win big.
Measure activity rather than progress. Sometimes it’s difficult, if not impossible, to detect progress. So have faith that positive activity leads to positive results.
Make the long-term investment. Every major undertaking requires desire, sacrifice, patience, and determination. Remember, it takes many years to become an overnight success.
This Is an Urgent Plea
Are you allowing important things to stagnate? It’s so easy to get caught up in your daily routine and respond to other people’s emergencies, that you don’t even realize you’re like a hamster running on a treadmill. Wouldn’t it be sad if you opened your eyes one day and sighed, “I should have” — when you really could have? Make time to seize the moment…and focus on the things that matter. Urgent isn’t the same as important.
By Frank Sonnenberg