Getting Away From Urgency

“What is important is seldom urgent,
and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.
If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”

Jim Rohn

imageFrom The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

From time to time, as I write the Small Idea, I sometimes wrestle with the month’s topic.  As August progressed, the more I thought about urgency the more I felt the focus should be getting away from urgency instead of getting around to it.  Here’s why.

I’m amazed at the number of companies I see that are routinely busy but still complain about how things don’t run as well as they’d like, about less than stellar employees or their lack of profitability.  Often, their work environments are a flurry of activity and fighting fires is the rule, not the exception.  Everything is done urgently but nothing important seems to get done.

I’ve concluded that’s because those tasks we look upon as urgent are often not necessarily so.  Urgent and pressing tasks are frequently a sign of reluctance, poor organization or just an excuse.  I once had an employee who was always busy.  He was always urgently moving from one place to another and stayed late every evening, however, he never caught up on his workload.  Once we started working on his approach to time management and setting his priorities, he was able to be more productive and regularly leave work at a reasonable time.

At times urgency is just an excuse for avoiding a difficult task, an unpleasant conversation, confrontation, or something else we don’t enjoy doing, for example, performance evaluations.  The current wisdom is they need to be improved, revised or eliminated.  My opinion (and experience) has been that the procrastination and problems regarding performance feedback often center on folks’ reluctance to address negative issues.  Nobody likes to talk about the negative stuff, initially or after six months or a year when it’s even harder to confront an employee.  That’s a topic for another day…

It’s human nature to avoid unpleasantness whether it’s in reference to a task or a person.  A convenient way to avoid unpleasantness is to find something “urgent” to do.  I’m beginning to believe a great deal of important work goes undone because “urgent” tasks took its place. 

One of my own struggles with my personal slice of human nature centers on over/under reaction to some circumstances.  Whether I’m having an OMG moment, initially overwhelmed with a project or if I am underwhelmed with a task I’d prefer not to do, it’s always easier for me to find something more “urgent” to do in its place.  Call it human nature, procrastination or laziness, the underlying cause is more often than not the fear of and/or reluctance to do something that will be hard, unpleasant or boring for us.

Doing Hard Things

This approach to work can be a detriment to organizational growth, profitability and the level employees engage in their own roles.  A strong foundation for any business relies upon a willingness to do the hard things and to address those issues that prevent or promote progress and growth for an organization and its people.  Leaders need to surround themselves with people whose strengths are in other areas.  That way there are checks and balances in place guaranteeing all necessary tasks are done, even the hard ones.  A jack-of-all-trades is only effective if s/he performs all their roles well.  However, we all know they are “master of none”.

Perhaps a bit of self-examination is in order for your organization.  Have you evaluated what is done well and what is not within your company?  Is it possible some tasks or major roles are less effective because you or someone on your team only works on the easy or fun stuff?  This type of internal assessment could improve the level of functioning of your organization.  However, in doing so it could take the form of a fine-tuning of how things run or become a major realignment of duties, responsibilities and accountability.  In the case of the latter, it would require choosing to take a hard look at the state of the union of your organization. 

As I thought more about urgency, a limerick came to mind:

There once was an owner of a business
Who had to justify to his missus
Why his company had no money
He said to her “honey”
I just chose to do what was easiest…

Are you willing to take an honest look at how things run in your company?  To examine how things can run better and how you and your team can work together more effectively.  It can be worth your time if you choose to take the time.  Alternatively, you can find something more urgent to do instead.

Here to serve,


John Duba

Next month:  Jargon vs. Plain Talk

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