We Ignore What Is Important Because Our Focus is on the Urgent

March 20, 2015 | Leadership, Time Management

We’ve all had a day like this.  We have aspirations of working on that marketing plan, making some contacts with customers, coaching  an employee, or writing the weekly blog…….

However, some how the whole day was taken away from us.  Fires needed to be put out.  An open office door policy lent itself to a lot of foot traffic. Our email Inbox needed to be taken to “0”. Another department pulled us into a long meeting. These days happen. However, we should assess which of these “urgent” activities are actually important versus unimportant.

We find that 90% of managers squander their time with ineffective activities…just spinning their wheels. Only 10% spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.  These statistics were taken from Broch and Ghoshal’s “Beware the Busy Manager“. In our experience, these four key objectives help us get closer to the 10% described above:

Inventory Your Daily Activities – To assess where we are spending our time, a simple tool that logs our activities by each 15 minute interval shows us where our time is spent. I personally did this a couple of years ago and was appalled at how much time I was spending on unimportant activities. Once I started keeping this log I also became more more mindful about focusing on important activities. A sample of a time log I used can be downloaded by clicking here.

Plan Your Work Week Before It Starts – Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People advocates for planning weekly and acting daily. Planning weekly allows us to circle back to our goals along with defining key objectives and tasks associated with these goals. Furthermore, our calendar is not just for standing meetings.  It should include scheduling time for the to do list, making phone calls, personal workouts, and engaging email. Email especially can take a lot of our energy if not managed properly. A great piece on how to better manage email can be found here.

Plan Your Most Important Work During Low Activity Times –  Our work that needs our full attention is best completed when no one is competing for our attention. This means this work may be best accomplished before and after hours. Personally, I do better with time before business hours.  My mind is rested and everything is quiet. The chance of receiving a call from the boss before 7 am is very unlikely.  Friday afternoon may be good because most people have weekend on the brain already and won’t be competing for our attention. This also works for me. In fact, I am writing this very sentence at 3:03 PM on Friday afternoon. What is most important is what works best for each of us. Everyone’s optimal time is different.

Plan Meditation, Reflection, and Rest – For me, some of my time working out allows me meditation and reflection. I get some of my best ideas and epiphanies during my workouts because my mind is clear. Since I rarely use music when working out, it also creates quiet time. Our culture today is obsessed with media especially of the audio and video type so creating quiet time helps for meditation and reflection. Getting good rest is no big secret, but it seems we still do not get enough. Sometimes, rest is not possible due to a deadline or other important matter. However, frequently not getting enough sleep will only make it harder to concentrate and produce our best work.

I’m sure there are other ways to focus on the important but these provide a high level road map to that goal. What are some ways that you keep your eye on the important while being continually faced with the urgent?

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