Putting Out Fires in Your Business: Paying Attention to Priorities

Putting Out Fires in Your Business: Paying Attention to Priorities

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As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Sometimes, however, it is difficult to discern the difference between the two. We know innately that often the tasks deemed ‘urgent’ are usually to please or satisfy someone else (i.e. our boss, our coworker, etc.). Urgent tasks are typically the tasks to further someone else’s agenda or dreams. But the tasks that are ‘important’ are the ones to further ‘our’ agenda and further ‘our’ goals and dreams. Therefore, the tasks we need to focus our efforts on are, by and large, the important tasks. It is true the urgent tasks often need our attention right away. But after the urgent/ important tasks are completed, important tasks are often left undone. Tasks that distract or interrupt our train of thought and workflow tend to take over our day, leaving us at the end of the day feeling like we haven’t accomplished as much.

Dr. Stephen Covey, author of self-help leadership programs and books, created a matrix to help us identify and prioritize tasks. He suggests we recognize that great efficiency does not equal effectiveness in the workplace. Being always ‘on’ and constantly needing to deal with urgent matters leaves us exhausted at the end of the day – both physically and mentally. The key is to identify the jobs that are truly urgent and need our attention immediately, get them out of the way as soon as humanly possible and then determine what jobs on our to do list are important; that is, what tasks do you have pending that will propel your business forward in a constructive way and fulfill long-term goals? When you have determined what tasks are important, you can then rank the tasks in terms of how urgent they are. Urgent and important tasks are the ones to pay attention to first. Prioritizing tasks should be one of the first goals of your day. In other words, prioritizing is urgent and should set the tone for the rest of your work day.

Focus is all important when it comes to being an effective worker. One can be highly efficient, but not get any ‘real’ work done in an 8 hour day. To be effective, one must understand what items on your list are urgent and not important. Meaning, what tasks can you outsource or say ‘no’ to? How can you schedule your time so you can take care of what are normally considered ‘distractions’? How can you avoid interruptions when you are trying to focus on a task? One way to do this is to set aside a small amount of time each day for ‘scheduled’ interruptions or distractions. This way you will have time to focus and time to take care of things that may seem urgent, but are not important to you and the long-term goals of your business.

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