Do you feel very busy but not very productive? If so, you may be making the all-to-common mistake of confusing what’s “urgent” with what’s “important.”
Productivity guru Stephen Covey is my guide in making this distinction. “Urgent” items are those that grab our immediate attention and seem to require a fairly quick response. Before the advent of voice mail, most of us treated all phone calls as “urgent.” We would drop everything to answer the phone.
Action items with impending deadlines are also “urgent.” The term paper that’s due in three months is not “urgent.” However, if you put it off for 2 ½ months, it will then become “urgent.”
“Important” actions are those that are aligned with your values and life goals. These actions make you more successful in your professional and personal life. “Important” items contribute to your physical health, spiritual maturity, and financial security.
Many things that we do are both “important” and “urgent.” When your employer gives you a project that needs to be completed soon, it is no doubt both “urgent” and “important.”
However, there’s a lot of stuff that is “urgent” but not “important” at all. How much time do we waste reading pointless memos, writing pointless reports, and attending pointless meetings?
The essence of effective time management is getting clear on what’s really” important,” whether it’s “urgent” or not.
Pay particular attention to “important” activities that are not urgent. Because these activities have no immediate deadline, it’s easy to put them off, maybe forever!
Here are some examples:
- Physical exercise
- Professional reading
- Strategic planning
- Reorganizing office space
- Team building
- Nurturing important relationships
If these are “important” items for you, you will have to place them on your calendar in advance. If you do this, you’ll soon notice that the “urgent” items still get done, but only if they are also “important.”
You will also feel less busy and more productive!