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Fighting the Urgent

I was facing another Monday morning, looking over my calendar for the week and feeling overwhelmed at my schedule.

I was unsure how all of the urgent tasks were going to be completed in the small blocks of available time. Invites were coming in for meetings that felt like they were happening at the last minute. Team members were frustrated significant tasks hadn’t already been completed. Clients were waiting for important follow-up notes.

I found myself wondering why this was happening again.

Why did every task feel like a race to mark it off? We have faced seasons like this before. As a team we have established careful processes and timelines to keep us from experiencing this hurried pace…and at times, a lack of the excellence we value. I was frustrated, feeling like we were stuck in a loop of urgency we could never seem to fully get out of.

After I forced myself to spend some time reflecting, and spoke with a trusted colleague about the problem, I came to this realization: we had let an urgent, hurried schedule become our new normal.

It started out of necessity, but subtly became just the way we did things. I considered Eisenhower’s urgent/important model, and realized we rarely made non-urgent tasks a priority. We let urgency dictate our priorities, which caused us to slip into the mindset that if it wasn’t urgent, we could just do it later. This is an unsustainable way of working that leads to missed details and a lack of excellence.

I then set off to solve the problem and reinforce some processes that we had already created.

In all candidness, I think this will be an ongoing struggle for us. It’s a tendency we slip into from time to time that deserves our regular attention. However, my aim is to make those occurrences fewer and easier to get out of.

Here are four tips I’ve found helpful for prioritizing the important:

  1. Schedule it. Block out uninterrupted time for non-urgent work and document why taking time on these tasks is important for moving your goals forward.
  2. Build in accountability to the schedule. Maybe you tell a co-worker, boss, or client they can expect this work at a certain time. Or, publicly commit to finishing the work. Whatever it is, create a consequence for yourself for not completing that work.
  3. Work with others. Sometimes it can be hard to motivate ourselves to do work that doesn’t feel urgent, especially if it’s tedious or challenging. Working with someone, even if it’s just sitting next to them, can boost motivation.
  4. Choose to work. Go on offense rather than defense. When we’re forced to get something done because it’s now urgent, we’re also forcing ourselves to work defensively. However, when we’re intentional about making time for important work, that’s working offensively. Offensive work comes with less pressure and often a slower pace, which are two things that often lead to fewer mistakes. Choosing to work versus having to get something done as quickly as possible is often a more pleasant, productive experience.

Where do you find yourself right now? As a leader worth following, are you making time for the important tasks—or are you stuck in the urgent?

What tactic can you employ today that might help?

Written by: Stephanie Brown, Operations Manager – Milestone Leadership

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