Urgent vs. Important
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Steve: Hi you guys. It’s Steve and Shawn and Jeff, and this is our “Ask Me Anything” with the heading of “How to Organize a Day, How to Organize a Year”—kind of for New Year’s when we’re all making our resolutions and how we can think ahead and make this a productive 2014. So . . . let’s go. The first question is from Brian Geraghty:
Hey Steve, how do you determine what is urgent and what is important? After you decipher which is which, how do you schedule it out?
This is a great question and . . . I want to address the idea of the distinction between what’s urgent and what is important—even though I know probably almost everybody is hip to this and everything. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to go back to fundamentals. Because . . . in blocking out a year, this is one of the most crucial distinctions—knowing what’s urgent and what’s important and how to treat them differently.
Kind of the overall idea here is:
Do what’s important first. Don’t let urgent stuff that’s not important get in the way.
So what’s an example of something that’s urgent?
You might get an email saying “You can save $300 on a ticket to Bermuda, but you’ve got to order it right now in the next hour.” Now that would be urgent. But if you don’t care about Bermuda, it’s not important at all.
Now what is important?
What is important is the work you’re doing. If you have a novel that you want to write in this year 2014 or whatever it is—a new business, a PhD dissertation—that’s the important thing and that has to come first in what you do during the day. The reason for that is that we all know how days get out of control. Things happen, we lose, and we’ve got to respond to emergencies or something like that. So, if you’ve done the important thing first, then if something happens after that, at least you’ve got that day. You haven’t lost that day and you haven’t lost two days in a row or three days in a row.
Now, I want to recommend a tape to everybody that is by a guy named Ken Glickman, and it’s a tape just called Time Management. It’s the best time management tape I’ve ever read. In fact, I’m going to steal a story from Ken right here as we’re talking. You can get it on a website called www.geniusnetwork.com. It’s run by a guy named Joe Polish, who is a great marketing guru, a friend of mine and a tremendous interviewer. He interviewed Ken Glickman on time management on like a 90-minute interview. I think it’s about $24. It’s very, very worth it, and . . . Let’s go back to what’s urgent.
This is an interesting thing because sometimes . . . Well let me go back to another thing. What’s an example of something that’s important but not urgent? Say your father is 87 years old and he lives alone on the opposite coast from you. It’s important to go see him and spend some time with your dad, but it’s not urgent. You say to yourself “Well, I can always do it next month. I’ll be out there next year” whatever. And then . . . Who knows what might happen to your dad. So, that’s something that’s important but not urgent. And then that Bermuda example is an idea of something that’s urgent but not important. So, obviously what comes to the head of the queue is stuff that is urgent and important—and what goes to the bottom of the queue is what is not urgent and not important.
But . . . Here’s a story off the Ken Glickman tape. Ken was saying that he had a female friend, maybe it was his aunt or something like that, who was John Wayne’s secretary back in the day. This was when John Wayne was making movies—so he had an office at Warner Brothers or someplace like that—and he would come there first thing in the morning, say “Hi,” have a cup of coffee, then he’d go out on the movie set, shoot his movie and come back into the office at the end of the day. So the secretary, Ken’s aunt or whoever it was, on Monday, at the end of Monday, the first day of the week, she says to him, “Mr. Wayne, there have been five phone calls from this gentleman today. He says it’s extremely urgent that he talk to you. Please would you call him back?”
So John Wayne completely ignores it, goes on with his business. Same thing Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday—more and more phone calls from this guy. Finally Friday, at the end of the day, John Wayne comes back into the office and the secretary grabs him again and says, “Mr. Wayne, the same gentleman has been phoning you. He’s phoned seven times today. It is extremely urgent that he talk to you. Please, he’s saying to me over and over it’s extremely, extremely urgent.” And, John Wayne stops and he looks over and he says, “Urgent to who? Urgent to him or urgent to me?” And with that, he keeps walking, never returns the guys’ phone call. So it’s very important to know that distinction—that we’re getting emails all day long, we’re getting phone calls from our kids, our parents, whatever. It’s always their urgency and not ours—and so the trick is never to respond to someone else’s urgency unless it really, really is urgent, World War 3 or something like that, and keep it only to your own. Like I had my phone on an answering machine and I don’t answer it if my own brother calls me. If I’m working, that’s important, and I will respond at my own sense of urgency. So that’s a very long answer to Brian Geraghty’s question.
Love these clips. Is there an iTunes podcast version?
My extrapolation of this is that I work very hard to reduce the number of things which are urgent (important or not) so I can focus on what’s important, but not urgent.
Past 7 years, I’ve stopped working like my hair was on fire and started working like John Muir: slow methodical preservation of beauty for generations to come, not just myself.
Urgent ta him or urgent ta me?
Respond to outside influences at your own sense of urgency. Do the work that is important to you.
Great stuff, Steve.
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