Thursday, August 10, 2017

Urgent Versus Important

Do you make the best use of your time?  

I believe if we were honest, our answer would be “No”.  We all are guilty of squandering some time on tasks of less importance.   Certain items on our to-do lists which desperately need our attention are continually pushed to the bottom of the list for a variety of reasons. We vow we are not procrastinators simply because we’re always busy. So what’s up with that?    

Urgent versus Important

This excerpt from Carl Richard’s book, The Behavior Gap, is long-winded but worth the read.  His explanation offers answers for why we have a tendency to complete less important tasks.

Carl Richards writes:

“Some tasks are both urgent and important. They belong at the top of your list.  Some tasks are urgent but not so important; still others are important but not so urgent.  Typically, the ones that are urgent but not important get done.  The phone gets answered.  So does reading the Facebook posting from your high school classmate. 

Meanwhile, the tasks that are important but not urgent drop to the bottom of the list and stay there.  This can cause big problems.  Dreams are awfully important. But they often don’t seem urgent.  And so our dreams fall to the bottom of our list.

You might need to fix the car – that’s probably urgent, and might be pretty important.  Shopping for a new surfboard?  Probably feels urgent, but it’s not as important as some of the non-urgent stuff that will affect your family’s long-term security.  (My surfer friends may disagree.)  Clarifying who will take custody of your children if you die?  Might not feel so urgent, but it can be awfully important.

On a day-to-day basis it’s easier to focus on the urgent stuff, leaving non-urgent but important stuff to wait.  Which would you do first: get the car washed or update your will?  The car is really dirty!  The will? What’s the rush?

What’s more, updating your will – like buying life insurance or setting up college savings account – is a complicated process.  Washing the car is easy. 

We also enjoy the sense of checking urgent (not always important) things off a list.  Some urgent tasks (shopping for that surfboard!) are even fun.  By comparison, sitting down and working through the details of your personal and financial lives may not seem to offer the same sense of excitement and immediate gratification (though it can). 

Of course, the important eventually becomes truly urgent.  But by then it may be too late to do much about it.”

Did you discover why we have a tendency to complete less important tasks?  Tasks which are fun, easy to do, or provide instant gratification are likely to get done before tasks which have a steep learning curve and are time consuming.

So now what?

Understanding Time Management

While you need to have a to-do list to check off tasks, you also need to determine the order in which your tasks can be completed so you can make wise use of your time.

Carl Richard’s reference resembles the time management concept presented in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  When we examine our activities, we can break each into one of four quadrants, as illustrated in the above diagram. 

·       Important and not urgent (Important Goals)

·       Important and urgent (Critical Activities)

·       Not important and urgent (Interruptions)

·       Not important and not urgent. (Distractions)

It is helpful to designate tasks as either “urgent” or “important”.  Stephen Covey defines “urgent” as the things which require your immediate attention and “important” as things having to do with results related to your mission, values, and high priority goals.  Ideally, we want to be proactively working on the issues that are “important but not urgent” in order to prevent events from escalating to issues that will become both “important and urgent”.  

What’s the next step? 

Let’s Get It Done

I would venture to guess that we know which tasks provide an everlasting effect on our personal and business financial health.  What may slow us down is deciding which tasks should be completed first.  I am in favor of finding the right tools (or worksheets) which can help get the job done.  It’s helpful to have a visual picture like this worksheet to rank the goals in order of priority.  It also allows everyone to complete their individual worksheet and then arrange a joint meeting to discuss the order of goals in urgency and importance.       

Now You Know

We look at the calendar, see another day slip by, and quickly say “Good-bye” to another month.   We know we’ve been busy but we’re never entirely sure what we’ve accomplished.  Surely, one task or goal requiring our attention was left untouched.  We have a fleeting thought that one day it will get done.  The challenge is to stop and make a sincere effort to begin the process of tackling that goal. It may be one of your important goals.  

Stephen Covey’s wisdom rests in these words, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”    


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