Lately I've changed the way I handle certain situations. Here's a common one: I am very busy, with something I need to get done in the next two hours, something that is very urgent and time pressing. Someone I know calls me and says, "Hey Igor, how about getting a cup of coffee with me?" My prior answer almost always used to be, "I can't right now, I've got to get this/something done."
It's no longer the case. Now I have a new standard answer: "Of course!"
In retrospect, the urgent thing I needed to get done was almost never really urgent. That amazes me. I had simply been putting work ahead of unstructured important relationship building.
I came across an aphorism from President Eisenhower that encapsulates this:
"Never let the merely urgent get in the way of the truly important."
I love that phrase, "merely urgent"! In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, he said:
"I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."
He recognized that great time management means being effective as well as efficient. In other words, we must spend our time on things that are important and not just the ones that are urgent. To do this, and to minimize the stress of having too many tight deadlines, we need to understand this distinction:
Important activities have an outcome that leads us to achieving our goals, whether these are professional or personal.
Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else's goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.
When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, we can overcome the natural tendency to focus on unimportant urgent activities, so that we can clear enough time to do what's essential for our success. This is the way we move from "firefighting" into a position where we can grow our businesses and our careers.