This question has been a powerful guide for me for years. You’ll recognize it from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steve Covey. It cuts to the chase of what depletes our energy, saps our motivation and distracts us daily if we allow it. And this question is equally important for us in both our personal and professional lives. In your leadership role at work, at home or in your community you know that it is easy to get pulled away into the small, urgent tasks that still may need to be addressed but often overwhelm people’s time and energy. This is particularly true during organizational change when everyone feels stretched and often stressed.
So What’s the Difference?
As a corporate trainer in Norway, I included Covey’s Urgent & Important concept in many workshops. People got it . . . it makes sense and is a great way to start to reduce the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions. When we can honestly (and quickly) identify when a task is truly important to our long-term goals or when the task is simply something that is urgent pressing for our time and energy we are way ahead of the game.
So here’s my way of telling the difference. An urgent task is one that presses for our time and energy, it’s often generated by someone else and it often comes about because of lack of planning (sometimes by me!). Now some urgent tasks are unavoidable – the car battery goes out, kids get sick, doctor appointments etc. But many really can be minimized by planning ahead.
Now an important task is one that contributes to my long-term goals, takes initiative on my part and is often done over time. Examples could include going to the gym for life-long health; signing up for a class to support a love of learning; making time each day to nurture relationships etc. Those are the tasks that are often easy to set aside in the busyness of everyday life.
Challenge to You
So my challenge to you is to ask yourself this week if some of what pulls on your time and energy is actually really important or is it just urgent. Be honest and then see what you decide to do. That urgent task may still need you but maybe next time it won’t . . . and that would feel really good!