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Overcoming the Tyranny of the Urgent: Prioritizing What Really Matters



In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to get caught up in the constant barrage of tasks that demand our attention. Deadlines loom large, and it's tempting to prioritize the tasks with the shortest deadlines, regardless of their actual importance. However, this approach can lead to a never-ending cycle of putting out fires and neglecting the tasks that truly matter.


Today we will explore practical strategies for breaking free from the tyranny of the urgent and focusing on what truly matters. We'll examine the importance of scheduling important tasks, isolating their most critical elements, managing anxiety, reducing time spent on unimportant tasks, and paying attention to the big picture. By adopting these strategies, you'll be better equipped to prioritize your most important work and achieve success in both your personal and professional life.


Schedule Important Tasks and Give Yourself Ample Time


One of the main reasons we prioritize tasks with short deadlines is that we feel a sense of urgency to complete them. However, this approach can lead to constantly putting out fires and neglecting more important tasks. To avoid this trap, schedule important tasks and give yourself way more time than you'll probably need to complete them.


For instance, if you have a critical project that requires careful planning and execution, schedule it for a time when you have plenty of bandwidth. Don't wait until the last minute and try to cram it in between other tasks. By giving yourself ample time, you'll be able to approach the task with a clear mind, focus on its most critical elements, and avoid the stress that comes with tight deadlines.


Isolate the Most Important Elements and Make Incremental Progress


Not all tasks are created equal. Within each task, there are often elements that are more critical than others. To make the most of your time, identify the most important elements of a task and focus on making incremental progress.


For example, if you're working on a marketing campaign, identify the most critical components, such as developing a compelling message, creating a strong call-to-action, and targeting the right audience. Break each component down into smaller, manageable tasks, and focus on making progress on each one. By doing so, you'll be able to make steady progress towards your goal without feeling overwhelmed.


Anticipate and Manage Anxiety


One of the biggest obstacles to prioritizing important tasks is anxiety. We often feel a sense of dread when faced with a daunting task, and this anxiety can cause us to procrastinate or avoid it altogether. To overcome this hurdle, anticipate the feelings of anxiety that may surround working on more important tasks and prepare yourself to manage them.


One way to manage anxiety is to break the task down into smaller, less intimidating parts. By doing so, you'll be able to focus on one aspect at a time, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the entire task. Additionally, try to identify the root cause of your anxiety. Is it fear of failure? Fear of the unknown? Once you understand the source of your anxiety, you can develop strategies to address it head-on.


Reduce Time Spent on Unimportant Tasks


Unimportant tasks can consume a significant amount of our time and energy. To make the most of your time, identify tasks that don't contribute to your long-term goals and reduce the amount of time you spend on them.


For instance, if you find yourself constantly bogged down in email, consider implementing a zero inbox policy. This means that you'll only check email at specific times of the day, and you'll aim to respond to messages immediately or delete them if they're not relevant. By doing so, you'll be able to reduce the amount of time spent on email and focus on more important tasks.


Pay Attention to the Big Picture


In addition to reducing time spent on unimportant tasks, it's essential to make time for activities that help you see the big picture. This can include taking a break from your daily routine to travel, catch up with friends, or engage in time-tracking exercises. These activities can help you gain perspective and refocus on what truly matters. By taking a step back, you'll be able to evaluate your priorities and make sure you're allocating your time and energy effectively.


Conclusion


Prioritizing your most important work is essential for achieving success in both your personal and professional life. By scheduling important tasks, isolating their most critical elements, managing anxiety, reducing time spent on unimportant tasks, and paying attention to the big picture, you'll be able to focus on what truly matters. Remember, it's not about getting everything done, but about getting the right things done. By adopting these strategies, you'll be able to prioritize your most important work and achieve your long-term goals.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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