Not so long ago my family sat down to dinner and the standard question went around: “So, how was your day?” I said that my day was busy but not productive. My daughter asked how that could be, since I’d spent so much time in my office.
I told her that a lot of unproductive activity passes for “work.”
It brought to mind Stephen Covey’s writings on the quadrants where we spend our time. If you don’t have the following two books, buy them today:
|The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey|
|First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill.|
Each book spells out a nice description of setting priorities. They boil down to a very simple graphic:
Print that out and fill in the squares.
Think about the activities in your day and place them into this matrix. For example, watching television is Not Urgent and Not Important. Really. It’s not important. Let’s look at these areas a little more closely.
Urgent items need your attention right now. We frequently perceive urgency as importance, but this is not accurate. For example, if someone rushes into your office and says “We have to do this right now. I just realized the deadline is tomorrow,” that activity is urgent but may not necessarily be important.
In our busy lives and busy jobs we frequently have to address the problem of having tasks thrust upon us at the last minute. Items can move from Not Urgent to Urgent simply because we let too much time pass. One of my favorite signs is this:
| Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an|
emergency on my part
As a general rule, work should not be Urgent. But work that is delayed will inevitably become Urgent. Deadline-driven projects are good to the extent that you meet the deadlines. If everything gets put off until the deadline, then something that didn’t need to be Urgent has become Urgent.
The worst kinds of urgent activities are re-work and deadlines that “sneak up” on us. Rework kills companies. If you have to go back and do a job over, you are probably wasting lots of the most expensive resource most companies have: labor. And when you rework one job, you can’t be doing the next. Rework is usually urgent, while work need not be.
In my technology consulting business we have a saying: Slow Down and Get More Done. In another life, I’ve been the employee asked to pack 80 hours of labor into a 60 hour week. There the saying was:
| We never have time to do it right |
but we always have time to do it over
When you slow down, relax, and focus on the job at hand, you will always be more productive. When you’re not thinking about the next three things that need to be done, you can do this job better. And if you’re not constantly interrupted, the job in front of you will be completed much more quickly–and at a higher level of quality. Slow down, get more done.
Deadlines are another matter. If you find yourself constantly butting up against deadlines, then you need to reconsider how you work on projects. We’ll discuss this in more detail in another article.
So what falls into the category of Not Urgent?
|“Water Cooler” Talk|
Notice that some of these are important and some are not.
Where do you spend your time?
This is an important topic, and needs your serious attention.
In our modern lives we spend a lot of time being very busy, doing unimportant work and urgent work that didn’t need to be urgent. The result is that we seem busy, and we are busy, but we’re busy doing things that just don’t contribute to long-term success.
We’re busy doing unimportant work. Or we’re busy doing urgent work that doesn’t need to be urgent. We’re busier than we need to be. We’re busy doing the wrong things!
And we’re doing the wrong things because we don’t take the time to plan what we do and then focus on doing what we plan.
If you’re fishing around for a New Year’s resolution, here are two goods ones to choose from:
- I will examine how I spend my time and do what it takes to spend most of my time on activities that are Important but Not Urgent.
- I will set reasonable deadlines and do important work on schedule so it doesn’t become urgent.
The thing you don’t want to do is stress out over this. Take time. Plan. Do the Important work of planning, preparation, and setting priorities. Then figure out how to make the new year a lot more sane and a lot less stressful.
Get More Done
|“It should be no surprise that good-hearted people fall prey to |
workaholism, because workaholism can look a lot like dedication!”
— Melannie Svoboda, SND
Would you be happy to
for the work you did today?