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Separating the Urgent from the Important

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Sorry I left you hanging on that cliff for so long, but brilliance can’t be rushed.

For those of you eagerly awaiting this blog which is part two of the Pulitzer-winning blog entitled: “I want more hours in my day!” your wait is over. When we last checked in with our hero, he just identified the fact that prioritization is the key to successful time management. “But, BAM, KAPOW, ZOWIE” you say, “how do I do that?”

Thank goodness you came to the right place! I have an amazingly original and brilliant answer to this question (as well as answers to many more of life’s difficult challenges – someone should notify the President – he’s really missing out on a major resource).

These solutions have come from the 17 years of retreats that we have done as well as my 25 years in business management.

Face it. We all wish we could spend more time on key goals but so much is happening around us that even though we start with good intentions, we often get distracted (kinda like how I INTEND to eat well, but then I get distracted by the pan of brownies cooling on the counter). We know that we need to address the “urgent” tasks first, but the problem is that everything seems to be “urgent.”

By urgent, I’m not just referring to emergencies. I mean text messages that need a quick response or the phone ringing that needs to be picked up or someone interrupting you at work with a question to be answered. Especially in our increasingly digital world, we feel like everything is urgent and needs our immediate response – even that silly text message while we’re driving.

joker 2If urgent were a movie character it would be The Joker trying to wrestle control from Batman (btw – you are Batman in this analogy and The Joker is all the people/things that are so “urgent” but are really just a joke – ha, ha).

So the answer lies in determining what is most important to you. What do you believe in? In 5 or 10 years, what do you want to know you gave the most attention to? Do you really want your kids, spouse, faith, health, etc. to be the most important things in your life? Then you need to act like it! When you’re clear about what your top priorities are, it becomes a matter of holding yourself to that standard.

One way to take back control of your life is to critically analyze what is merely urgent and what is truly important. Even if you’re swamped, taking a few minutes to think about this will actually free up time for you.

If you’re out of the office at an important meeting, do you answer your e-mail during that meeting? Probably not. And the world doesn’t end, does it? That e-mail probably wasn’t nearly as urgent as you might have thought. Another way to look at it is to remember that other people don’t know what you’re doing every hour of every day. When your phone pings and you realize you have a text message waiting, your pavlovian response might be chirping in your head urging you to grab that phone (despite the fact that you are sitting across the table from your mother and you know that she HATES when people text while in a conversation). Instead that person can wait for your response – because as far as they know you could be taking a nap, in the shower, or maybe even having lunch with your mother! And if you were doing any of those things your response would have to wait. So putting off your response for your own convenience should be acceptable as well.

And to apply this to your relationship: going out on a date night once a month with your partner might not be urgent. However continually postponing your date because you’re doing things that other people have convinced you are urgent is a problem. You are letting someone else’s list of priorities overrule yours.

Another strategy: schedule your most important things into your day and let the other stuff fill in the gaps. Trust me, if you don’t get to some of those “other things” they probably weren’t that important!

If spending time with your wife is important (before you get to divorce court that is) then schedule that in. If you believe that spending time with your kids is crucial (before they’re out of your house just like in that “Cats in the Cradle” song) then make the time now. If you don’t want to be sick all the time as you get older (and you probably don’t) then work on your health starting today.

Finally, if others are trying to control your calendar and eat up all your time, then give them a deadline. Tell them when you will respond (i.e., I have some things on my calendar this morning – I’ll get back to you by 8 tonight). This will put you at ease and will also keep others from badgering you.

Scrap the Crap Tip: Be proactive. Determine what’s most important and what’s merely urgent. Make a list – on paper – and keep that list with you and review it often. Then make a commitment to get the important done. Accomplish your priorities first, then work on everyone else’s urgent items.

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Richard Barney

Richard is the co-author of The 48 Hour Relationship Retreat. He is a dedicated husband and father of two young children. In his spare time he is an avid sports fan, tries to workout to keep fit, and spends a lot of time watching his kid's games.

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