Some days it seems I wildly scramble from one task to another. Despite my plans for the day, unexpected phone calls, emails or otherwise "quick" tasks seem to scuttle my intentions faster than you can say "Titanic".
I'm pretty good at having these kinds of days be the exception and not the rule but in today's fast paced world, I am realizing that it is easier and easier to spend time spinning in the urgent while putting off time for what's important. At least some portion of almost every client call or consult is spent supporting clients to understand the difference.
You see, urgent tasks "feel" good. Urgent things tend to be the reactive, fire-fighting stuff that has us come to the end of the day saying, "Where did the day go?" Urgent tasks involve more short-term energy. They make us feel valued and give the illusion that we're getting important work done. I often think of the old adage, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it." On some level, I agree…
….but only if you're getting paid to be busy and not strategic.
If your job or company requires you to be strategic, then I think you would agree that it might behoove you to actually get something strategic (ie important) done instead of just being the fire-fighting king/queen (trust me when I tell you that no matter how good your fire-fighting skills are, someone will eventually notice that you aren't contributing at the level you're getting paid for). The problem with getting to the important stuff is that it isn't as "sexy" as the urgent (and for most of us, it's usually a lot less fun). In fact, more often than not, important work tends to be downright tedious and boring. Working on and evaluating my business plan is not much fun for me but I also know that if I don't "plan my work and work my plan" and spend time evaluating what's working and what isn't, the distance for my company between thriving and "life-support" will be quite short.
So how do you actually stave-off the urgent to get to what's important? Here are just a few tips that work for me:
1. Rule number one: Notice when your day is full of urgent activity. This is critical because if you aren't conscious of the fact that you're getting sucked into a life of urgency, you'll actually think you're getting something done!
2. Schedule time to check email and voicemail. Instead of letting these tools run you, take control of them. There's nothing that says we MUST answer the phone every time it rings or we MUST respond to email every time the chime dings. Decide on a protocol and a schedule (for example, I commit to respond to email and voicemail within 24 hours and my guideline is to check email 3 times per day – usually around 10am, 1pm and 4pm). I have seen some individuals go so far as to set an email auto-responder message that notifies the sender of when they will checking email. It certainly makes one "appear" busy but isn't always the most user-friendly model of time management.
3. Decide on no less than 3 and no more than 5 important tasks to complete each day. Make your list the day prior so that when you get to your office, you're ready to go. Note: This list is not the same as your task list. We have become task list crazy often filling it with tons of urgent tasks that just keep us busy. Here I'm asking that you create a list of 3-5 IMPORTANT tasks – things that advance your business, your career and your goals.
If you have other tips or tricks that help you stay focused and get to what's important, please share them. I know other readers would benefit!
You were born to be great!
YES, you can!