Focus on Importance Instead of Urgency
The twentieth century has seen technology grow by leaps and bounds, and with that, the speed at which we are able to do business has gone from zero to sixty in no time flat. Gone are the days where correspondence was based on snail-mail and direct communications were limited to the telephone. Not a cell phone, but a regular old, standard, desktop telephone. Can you even imagine doing your job without the internet?
While technology has grown, along with our unyielding reliance on it, perhaps we all need a reminder that we should always focus on what's important, and not always on what's urgent.
Alice Boyce from the Harvard Business Review shares with us six tips on how to stay focused on what matters:
1. Schedule Important Tasks, and Give Yourself Way More Time Than You’ll Need
Don't be afraid to clear your schedule to complete an important project. It can be hard to ignore your instant messages, and even harder to ignore your inbox when it is piling up with incoming messages. Consider turning those items off for an hour or two. Automatic replies are not just for when you're on vacation. Use them to let people know that you are focusing on a priority, and that if there is an emergency, they can reach you in a designated way.
2. Isolate the Most Impactful Elements of Important Tasks
If your big project seems overwhelming, and your first instinct is to procrastinate, focus your energy on creating a list that breaks that project down into small achievable goals. You will be more likely to get through that big project if you reward yourself at each step along the way. Crossing things off a checklist, even small items, is as satisfying as can be.
3. Anticipate and Manage Feelings of Anxiety
We all know it's coming. Anxiety can crop up once a month, once a week, or it can spend the whole day with you. Knowing that it's always around the corner and planning for it can make a big difference. When that email comes in that someone has marked "important" or "urgent" can cause stress levels to spike. Create a strategy today about how to tackle those items, so when the time comes, you have plan. Also, don't be afraid to respond requesting clarification on timeline and never be afraid to ask, "is this truly urgent"?
4. Spend Less Time on Unimportant Tasks
Identify expectations for projects before they get off the ground. If you know a project is low on the totem pole, communicate that with your employees or coworkers so that expectations are set from the start. For example, if you need a web page built, but you do not want it to be anything fancy, communicate that with your web designer up front, so they don't spend time overworking it.
5. Prioritize Tasks That Will Reduce Your Number of Urgent but Unimportant Tasks
Automation. Standardization. Elimination. Focus your time and energy as early as possible on those three goals and you will reduce the amount of time projects take overall.
6. Pay Attention to What Helps You See (and Track) the Big Picture
Focus on the big picture. Some of the tasks you create yourself may not influence the big picture. Evaluate your tasks and do not be afraid to check with leadership to ensure that you are not wasting your time on a project that is off course from your organization’s goals. There is nothing worse than spending your time on a project that inevitably will not see the light of day.
Sit back and take a deep breath. It is incredibly difficult to differentiate what is important from what is urgent. Keep your priorities in check and reach out to leadership to make sure that you are spending your time wisely. Ask your colleagues "Is this request truly urgent?" or "Does the result of this project truly meet organizational goals?" You deserve to spend your time on the things that matter, so focus your energy on what is important, not on what is urgent.