The Web is overflowing with charts illustrating the time management wisdom of General Eisenhower’s words:
What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.
The locations of the boxes may differ, but the concept is the same: four quadrants, showing the relationship between matters of urgency and importance (and their counterparts). Something like this:
It’s all so very neat and organized, isn’t it? The solution to your time management problems is right there! — Do the stuff in green first, Delegate the stuff in blue to others, Schedule time for you to do the stuff in yellow, and avoid the time-wasting stuff in white. My notes from that last leadership conference tell me “Leadership” happens in that yellow square, so I just need to spend more time there and less time in the blue box. See?
Life doesn’t play out that way, and nothing demanding your time today after you read this post will allow itself to be confined to a neat little box. In reality, the demands of the Urgent wash over our day like a tsunami, blurring the lines between Important and Not Important, hiding both behind the demand of NOW! Reality is messy, and rarely colors within the lines we’d like to prescribe to it:
In a world that looks like that, filled with actual people who experience the effects of cognitive overload in real, tangible ways, where do you think your people are going to spend their time that’s leftover from the unyielding onrush of the Urgent? There is an oasis that offers a respite from the pressure, and it isn’t in that yellow box that demands the mental energy and executive brain functions of forward thinking Leadership. As a result, 90% of our days are spent bailing water from the flood happening all around us, and whatever else we have left gets spent checking the internet for news, scores, Likes, Tweets, and LOLCats … anything to let our mental engine cool down and dry off.
This is an understandable, natural way to survive the day … but it is no way to lead.
Nobody bringing you their buckets of urgent blue seawater are going to suddenly stop of their own accord out of concern for your need for time. That’s why you have to approach your time with the same effort, planning, and resolution as it takes to keep the literal sea at bay. You have to build a wall: firm boundaries that are apparent to all, hold strong in the crushing weight of everything Urgent has to throw at it, and allows only the most urgent to spill over the top and into your view.
As you set out to build your wall, prepare for the whispers (and screams) of The Resistance to try to get you to stop:
- You’re lazy, using your leadership position as an excuse to avoid work that needs doing;
- You’re afraid to help out with this urgent problem;
- You’re disengaged from the problems that need solving;
- You’re not a team player when you don’t attend update meetings about the latest urgent problem;
The list goes on — your job is to ignore each and every accusation until they finally end, and you can get to work doing the tasks of Leadership you were hired to do.
There is one caveat: you damn sure better produce something of value to your organization during your time behind the wall and away from the Urgent. Fail to do that, and you haven’t been leading at all — you’ve simply been hiding.