Time management: Don’t let the urgent take over the important.
Two-thirds of Americans believe there is never enough time in the day to do what they want to do. I suspect that number will increase the closer we get to Christmas. The problem, of course, is not a shortage of time but a tangle of priorities.
Rob Carter, executive vice president and chief information officer of FedEx Information Services, recently introduced me to a small pamphlet written in 1967 by Charles E. Hummel that profoundly addresses this issue. He quotes a cotton mill manager who told him, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” Hummel refers to this as “The Tyranny of the Urgent.”
With a little thought, all of us can point to examples in our lives of what he means: the never-ending email inbox, the addictive nature of Facebook and Instagram, the pressure to get the perfect Christmas present, the endless distractions at work that keep you from concentrating on your to-do list.
The problem is that the important does not need to be done right now. It can often wait until tomorrow or next week or even longer. It is urgent to get Grandmother a Christmas present, but it is important to spend quality time with her to let her know you love her. It is urgent to meet your sales quota, but it is important to create a business that treats customers with fairness and quality service. It is urgent to get your children to school on time, but it is important to give them love that will last a lifetime.
How we use our time is similar to how we spend our money. Impulsive spending can overtake a financial plan if we are not careful. In fact, it gets many people in trouble. The same is true with our time if we let the urgent, or even merely the impulsive, take over.
The challenge is that the urgent — what is right in front of us — and the important often clash, and we have trouble seeing the way forward. As a result, the urgent all too often wins out.
Making time every day to just wait can help escape the tyranny of the urgent. Meditation, prayer or a long walk to clear your mind are paths to clarity about where to devote limited energy and resources.
Hummel makes these suggestions:
1. Decide what’s important. Then list changes when you spend time considering what should be on it rather than allowing external circumstances to be the only determinant.
2. Discover where your time goes. (I was shocked when I timed how much of my day goes to emails.)
3. Budget the hours. When the time is up, just stop. Or set aside time for work and play. When it is time to work, don’t let anything interrupt you. Same for play time.
4. Follow through. Deciding, discovering and budgeting will not contain the urgent without real follow-through.
I find that December is crammed full of the urgent at a time we give lip service to the important. I can remember few Christmas presents I spent hours buying, but I remember clearly the times with those I love during the Christmas season. I suspect the same is true for you.