Urgent or Important?

One of James' favorite quotes is "Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important" (Charles Hummel in The Tyranny of the Urgent). James often gives his "short-hand version" to our clients, "Never let the urgent replace the important" while discussing priorities. You know the things we say matter and the things we treat like they really matter. I've been thinking a lot about priorities lately. Each time I do the exercise James suggests (listing the top 5 to 10 priorities in our lives, and then noting how much time out of every day we actually spend on those items), I find myself woefully "short" on time in areas I claim to be important. And as I try to justify the fact with well-reasoned arguments that James' parameters for what it means to "spend time" are too narrow, I hear him say, "You are the one who said these things matter, not me. Do they really matter?"

The same is true in our professional lives. It's challenging for leaders to focus on the important. We have "fires" set in our work each day - "urgent" matters "requiring" our attention. I've been wondering what would happen if I just ignored those fires for a while. Would they burn out of control? Would they "go out" naturally? Would I discover I have some pretty good "fire-fighters" on my staff? Would I be pleased with the path the fire burned - sort of like clearing a field for the next fruitful crop? If leaving it alone could produce some positive results, why am I so attracted to the fire?

I think I am attracted to the fire for several reasons. First, fires are fun. Yeah I admit it, I get a charge out of having to deal with a fire. It's an adrenaline thing, I guess. Second, fires are easier to deal with than focusing on long-range strategy. It's tough to look into the future and stay on a course to lead to a desired end. Third, fires make me look valuable. Businesses like trouble-shooters and in my "fire-fighter" role I'm a good one.

But fighting fires takes me away from my role as a leader - and it does the same with you. Stop fighting fires. Focus on the important. I know, it's going to be hard, but we're going to do it together. Let me know how I can help you.

Putting away my water hose, Becky

P.S. I may not write a blog the week of August 20 - I will be on vacation with my natural mom. She said it's okay to write during that time, but it seems a little "off" after all this talk of priorities. If you don't hear from me for a while, you know why.