Urgent vs. Important

By Anthony Gold

Consider what you would do if you received two life-changing phone calls. In the first call, you learn that you’ve inherited $20 million – no strings attached. In the second call, you are informed that you have a rare and incurable disease and have only 10 years left to live.

What would you do differently, and in particular, what would you stop doing?

That is the thought experiment posed to Jim Collins, author of the widely popular business book Good to Great, by one of his advisors. Since that time, Collins developed an annual “stop doing” list to help guide his priorities.

An insightful MIT study explored how well top managers within companies prioritized their key challenges. During the interviews, executives were asked to share the most important problems they were facing. And most of the managers listed five or so such major problems.

But when the study examined what the managers actually worked on during the previous few weeks, not a single one of them reported any activity directly associated with those problems. In other words, they did not do any work on those most important priorities.

This problem of getting sucked in by urgent-but-not-important activities is not just limited to executive management. We can all relate to that.

If we honestly look at the time we spend on actions that are not directly related to our core priorities – we’d probably see that amount is not inconsequential. Peter Bregman of Harvard Business Review advises a timer that goes off every hour in order to ask ourselves, “Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?”

What we often find is that the answer is “no”. But this reminder gives us a chance to make a different choice and truly focus on what matters most to us in that moment.

Otherwise, each day will be spent working on anything but our “important but not urgent” tasks, leaving us little energy remaining to focus on the really important stuff – like personal growth.

So, how can we get in touch with our best interests and not spend so much time consumed by unimportant activities?

Join me in Monday’s class where we’ll explore this topic and learn techniques to consistently focus on what is most critical. I look forward to seeing you then.

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