In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
The image to the right shows a 2×2 matrix using the two axis of Important and Urgent. This gives us 4 types of task:
- Urgent & Important
- Urgent & Not Important
- Important & Not Urgent
- Not Urgent & Not Important
In an un-disciplined person, category 2 tends to be completed before category 3. In a disciplined person, category 3 is completed before touching category 2.
Success is rarely Urgent
Jim Rohn gives one of the most powerful definitions of success:
“Failure is a few bad decisions repeated every day. Success is a few simple good habits practiced every day” Jim Rohn
There is a saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Health success is an apple a day. Failure is a donut instead of an apple each day. You can say “what difference does 1 donut make?” You won’t notice the damage today, you won’t notice tomorrow… but over a year: a donut a day starts to extract a price.
The urgent is often the result of avoiding the important.
By the time the painkillers are needed, it is too late for the vitamins.
Vitamins are important.
Practice Saying “No”
If you wish to spend more of your life on the important things, and less on the urgent things, there is a tool…
Warren Buffett’s definition of integrity: “you say No to most things”. If you are not saying No to most things, you are dividing your life up into millions of little pieces that are being given to other people’s priorities.
Learn to say “No”…
…without the word “no”.
The most powerful ways to say “no” do not involve the actual word “no”.
- Here is one powerful way: Strategic Unavailability.
- Another is to raise the cost of your “Yes”: If someone wants to meet for coffee, I say “yeah sure, I am free on Friday at 7am at my office in Sabadell [25 mlles away]”. If the person still wants to meet then it must be important. 90% end up not following up. The few that do, will come prepared and have done their research. They know what they want from me. They know whether it is worth their time.
Celebrities and Politicians have entire staffs dedicated to restricting access. Bono, the singer of U2, has 25 people who review requests for his time, his money, his attention in order to allow only the important requests to reach Bono himself. Barrack Obama has a whole White House staff whose mission is to ensure that he only spends time and energy on important things, that only he can deal with.
If you don’t start developing methods of saying “no” now, it will only get harder as you become wealthier, wiser, more famous, more experienced and more resourceful.
What urgent task will you say “No” to today?
Some other great posts on Robert Glazer’s blog Friday Forward:
- Resilience and Gratitude – the importance of locus of control and gratitude in becoming unstoppable
- Working Smarter not Longer – the value of creating a culture of results, not of hours worked