Dan's Blog: Important vs Urgent: Finding the Balance
I will assume that a good number of the readers of this blog are parents, and that you will be painfully familiar with the “work/parenting” balance we strive for in life, which at times seems so elusive. I guess such a balance would be easily attained if both work and parenting would only require part of our energy, the sum of which would equal less than 100%. But it so often feels otherwise. Being a parent of toddlers, teenagers, or twenty-somethings is terribly demanding, though in vastly different ways.
Being a manager in your company is not dissimilar. It is demanding, and if you are doing your job well, it can be terribly demanding. You have many plates to keep spinning, and some of these are urgent and others are not urgent but certainly important. It’s difficult to balance your time spinning both types of plates.
For those not familiar with it, the Importance vs. Urgency Matrix is attributed to President Eisenhower and was popularized by Stephen Covey:
According to Mr. Covey, we should spend all our time in the upper 2 quadrants of the matrix, i.e. only on the important. We should delegate Quadrant 3 to others, and not bother with Quadrant 4. So let’s look at what’s in Quadrant 2, and what we need to do to balance it against Quadrant 1.
Like many of us, I work in a business and technical environment where things change at an ever-accelerating pace. For many of us, our clients are demanding new products, prospects’ expectations are higher than ever, competition has more resources so can develop more quickly, and the whole business picture can start to overwhelm the unprepared. On top of that, the pessimists in our organizations love to remind us that doomsday is just ahead!
When life is so busy that you find yourself only reacting, and not pro-acting, you end up spending all your time in Quadrant 1. Long-term objectives aren’t met in Quadrant 1. Pro-active strategic planning doesn’t happen in Quadrant 1. I don’t know about you, but I need to constantly remind myself to spend good, quality time on Quadrant 2 tasks. As the person in our company responsible for driving product direction, if I don’t spend that time in Quadrant 2, and surround myself with the right team of Quadrant 2 thinkers, I’m in trouble.
For as many years as I can remember, I have begun each day by planning, which consists of looking at my to-do list and prioritizing it for that specific day. If I didn’t do this, my day would fill up naturally with the urgent. I would read emails as they come in, rather than relegating reading emails to that breathing space in between bigger tasks (the ones on my to-do list). Planning takes time each morning, but time spent planning is more valuable than many of the tasks which I later perform! It provides the peace of mind that I am working on the most important (not necessarily urgent) tasks that day, which helps me focus. If anyone asks why I haven’t completed such-and-such a task, I can confidently say that I am working on something more important.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Plan, think, and do. It can keep you calm amidst a storm of fires that need fighting. If you plan effectively, you will be balancing Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 effectively, and this will lead you to success.
P.S. You might want to try to apply this to your parenting life as well. You just might find that you’re a better parent.