Tending to the Important but Not Urgent Things in Life
Every waking day, countless things vie for our attention. Some have that insistence of the urgent and important – situations where you have to drop everything and deal with it. A leaking roof, the report that is due tomorrow, or picking up a sick child from school could fall into this category.
Others make their presence known with a steady persistence as if we are slowly moving toward a precipice from afar. That movement signals the things that are important but perhaps not as urgent to address. I have learned to pay attention to that movement because experience has taught me to note the day when something important but not urgent rises to the level of urgency. In saving for my boys’ college fund, planning for the long-term care of my parents, and getting my own affairs in order, I am more prepared and less anxious to deal with such matters when they become urgent.
Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis for us to pay attention to these issues, and that has been proven time and again in our country, our communities and our own lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I have witnessed many stories of people and organizations that are aware of their own approaching precipice and do something small each day to build and strengthen their wings so they can fly off the cliff rather than fall.
For me that precipice is my declining workload, a result of the economic downturn and the evaporation of funding that had supported my clients and me over the past ten years. It wasn’t sudden but it was steady and unmistakable. I knew in January that I would reach the edge of the cliff by August, so I am taking three small steps each week to address what I knew was coming.
These steps do not take much time - no more than 20 minutes each for a total of one hour per week. Just setting aside the time was, in itself, a sort of hedge against uncertainty.
A step may consist of doing some online research on resources for minority businesses, or perhaps having a phone conversation with one of my mentors on this topic.
Or it may simply consist of taking time to visualize the future I want and setting the intention to manifest that vision.
I also drew upon some wisdom I gained from one of the first workshops I took as a new program director in 1988. Led by non-profit guru Jan Masaoka, that workshop on time management turned out to be one of the most valuable learning experiences of my career. Jan taught me how to organize the activities in my weekly “to do” list into a four-part chart:
Important & Urgent items. I try to limit this category to three in a given week because these are among the most demanding, and also leaving room for any sudden issues that may arise.
Not Urgent & Not Important things. Limit the time given to these things to the beginning and end of my day so they don’t creep into my prime time slots.
Urgent & Not Important issues. These can be tough to manage because they may include crisis management. I schedule four specific times during the day to respond to urgencies such as calls, emails and texts and other stuff. These dedicated times keep the urgent in perspective and allow for uninterrupted time to focus on more important issues.
Important but Not Urgent matters. These things often take the back seat to items B and C, which is how important but not urgent matters become important and urgent. (Suddenly that proposal that was due in four weeks is now due in three days. How did that happen?).
I’m a believer that crisis can be prevented with a little planning, and for over twenty years, this chart has been my sanity assurance system. By taking three small steps each week to address your important but not urgent issues, you will realize a many-fold return on your investment, measured in time, money and peace of mind.
So I ask you to commit to take three small steps each week in tending the important but not urgent things in your life. And sometime in the future, you will be glad you did.
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