Why is it that urgent almost always takes precedence over the important? Is it simply the squeaky wheel impact? Will it really matter if the urgent is deferred for the important?

We’re seven weeks into the new year and a client who had scheduled a business planning workshop last December has just called to defer because ’something’ came up. No doubt the initial commitment to the workshop and the subsequent reaction to the ‘urgency’ are both sincere. But, what may not be immediately apparent is that reacting to ‘urgency’ in this manner can have some rather large and unintended (unwanted) consequences.

‘Urgent’ invariably requires immediate attention and action, a task is achieved and the ‘to do’ box is ticked and you can move on. The result is immediately tangible and in many ways gives a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

‘Important’ tasks usually involve a longer timeframe, planning and decision making, with results not immediately forthcoming (ie. issues pertinent to longer-term goals and objectives). They can be more challenging and have no immediate tangible benefit, hence the temptation to postpone in favour of the clear and immediate ‘urgent’ tasks.

Things do happen, and sometimes the urgent must take precedence, I’m not advocating for one moment that when an urgent matter arises you automatically turn a blind eye to it. But before you rush to attend to it, wouldn’t it be good practice to at least consider; what will happen if I leave it for now and attend to my important issue? Will my business fail? Will I actually lose anything?

Perhaps ‘victory of the urgent’ has led to only one in five Australian advice practices (22%) having a documented business plan, or only 26% to have sought feedback from their clients in last 12 months, a mere 5% to have developed an effective succession plan and only two in three practices (66%) to have formally checked their staff satisfaction levels.

To add further to this predicament, all the activities referred to above (previous paragraph) are proven drivers of profit. For example, those practices who have sought feedback from their clients over the past 12 months, are achieving a 90% higher level of profitability compared to their peers who haven’t …you get the drift.

So, how do you minimise the risk of distraction and diversion from the important to the urgent? Here are some of tips we’ve learnt over the years:

  • If it’s in your diary, do it. Don’t defer or postpone without good reason. If it was important enough for you to commit to in the first place, has the unexpected (urgent), in reality, changed the relative status to such an extent?
  • Have someone to keep you focussed on your game plan (in other words – to hold you accountable to the ‘important’). Could be your P/BDM for example. Alternatively, a mentor, coach or board of advice.
  • And if the temptation to defer is seemingly too great and you’re about to postpone the important, take 5 minutes to re-think. On balance, does the issue that is urgent, warrant a deferral of the important?
  • Delegation works too. Not everything revolves around you …or does it?
  • Say ‘no’ or at least suggest an alternative to the seemingly urgent.
  • Have a plan. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to be diverted by the ‘urgent’. Having a plan helps paint a clearer understanding of what is important.
  • Just because someone else says its ‘urgent’, it doesn’t have to be for you.
  • Allow time in your schedule for the urgent. Block out time for unexpected/urgent matters (and if not needed it’s a bonus, right!).

As the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D Eisenhower, once observed, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.

For your consideration.