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I have had the privilege of spending the last week in the magnificent Cayman Islands with my brand new fiance. The water is clearer and the beaches whiter than anything I have ever seen, it could not be finer. Jamie and I have fallen in love with the island and thus decided to buy a Ritz-Carleton residence deckhouse. Not only does this place feel like heaven, it chalk full of the most wonderful people in the world. (The fact that the island is pretty much the only first world country in the Caribbean with one of the most secure bank systems in the world is not a bad deal either…)
After spending the last week here, and only having the time to take care of the most important things in my businesses, I had some time to think about the urgency of importance.
In Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he talks about the difference between Important and Urgent matters, and how dividing our time in a balanced way between those two types of activities can make us more or less effective.
It’s amazing how something that urgently demands our attention almost always seems to appear important. But is it? Understanding how to recognize the two as separate has really been an eye-opener for me and has helped me prioritize how I spend my time.
Urgent matters require our immediate attention; we react to urgent needs. It could be something as simple as putting down a book we are studying to answer a question shouted from the next room.
Every one of us probably knows someone who’s permanently in crisis mode, constantly putting out fires, busy, busy, busy. But, have you noticed, that type of person is frequently stuck somewhere shy of their goals because they never seem to have the time to get to the things they say are important to them?
I am not saying that urgent matters are always not important. A true crisis must be tended to. But a problem—something like figuring out how to clear the cache on your computer so it runs smoother—must take a number and wait behind matters that actually are important.
Important activities are those that help you get closer to the goals you have set for yourself. Important tasks frequently are things we must do on our own initiative, without some outside circumstance creating a sense of urgency. Important things come in all sizes, but usually require planning and effort, sometimes simply to prevent situations from becoming urgent. For example, taking care of your own body now is important because it may help you to avoid a future consumed by illness and urgent visits to the doctor. (I have barely missed the gym since I had this epiphany!)
We ignore important tasks early in the day or early in life, they have a way of escalating into urgent situations.
It’s probably becoming apparent that one thing that’s extremely important is to separate important tasks from urgent ones and assign them time appropriately. Once you’ve clarified that something is important, it’s your responsibility to assign a sense of urgency and get it done. If you’re an entrepreneur, think about the aspects of your business that are urgent as opposed to important. Consider delegating urgent tasks by getting an assistant. Your effectiveness will dramatically increase if you start spending by far the greatest percentage of your time attending to the important things. If you take care of the important tasks you’ll keep them from becoming urgent and reduce the amount of time devoted to crisis management in your life.
As I said, time for mortals is finite. In fact, we never really know when we’ll run out of it. To make matters more complicated, there turns out to be truth in the old saying that you never have enough time to do everything you’d like to do. So you really do need to decide what is important, and take care of business!