Urgent or Important

We have talked about vision in previous posts such as Can You Taste It?  Energize, Mobilize & Guide, Shared Vision, Align Your Vision and Own Your Vision.  As a follow up to the whole series, let's do a short check to see how you're doing at deciding what's most important.

As the leader of your team, you make choices every few minutes.  Even as a contributor, more and more these days, you have some control over how you spend your time. You decide to attend meetings, write software or return customer calls or talk with a team member about some deliverable.  You make literally hundreds of choices per hour.

What is Urgent?

Some of the things you choose are important and some are urgent.  You know the urgent choices -- the ones that must be done right now.  Important tasks take longer to identify and complete.  Often the most important tasks are the most strategic; requiring time and coordination to implement.  Urgent problems demand attention. In fact, we can define urgency as the tension between what is and what needs to be. Urgency is inversely proportionate to the slack (excess time and resources) we have to implement what needs to be. High slack, no urgency; Low slack, high urgency.

Important tasks wait patiently.  Important tasks are high-value, what needs to be initiatives. Generally, since they're high value, we commit the necessary time and resources, establishing slack.  Discipline is required to maintain the slack; or fence-off the best parts of your day to devote to the most important issues.  It's very tempting to commit the slack of important projects to the squeakier, urgent ones.  (I'm not saying I do this very well...)

Once you have identified the truly high-value important issues, make sure your team's best effort, their prime time, is committed to the most important objectives.

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Anthony Robbins

You may have to get urgent about this.  I realize that might sound confusing, but there is a "good" urgency.  If your home is on fire, you can't stop and evaluate how changes in the trade deficit will affect your 401k.  Effective people and teams deliver their best energy to their top priorities.  As you're diligent about applying your best energy to your best goals, you will align with your best vision.  Your team will appreciate your consistency.  In fact, they should flourish in it.  They will adopt the vision and push it forward for you.  Make your top priorities your most important and urgent initiatives. Apply your best energy in their direction for your greatest impact.

Can you look past the lack of slack (high urgency) and find the high value projects?  Are you clear on the most important initiatives your team must address?  If you're not clear, who is?  If you fail to hold the line, eventually important initiatives will produce more urgent tasks.  Can you identify the important initiatives that will soon become urgent?

Questions for reflection:

  1. Are urgent things keeping us from working on the truly important ones?
  2. What urgent things can we delegate and get off our plate?
  3. How can we spend more energy on our key strategic initiatives and less on "drama?"