Last week in the post titled What’s the point? I referenced the idea of the tyranny of the urgent. And as promised here’s a quick rundown of what that looks like and how to better manage the important and urgent portions of life. Before we begin, I must confess. There was a time in my life when I was something called an adrenaline junky. Adrenaline Junkies are dangerous people. We’re dangerous because there’s not a lot we can’t do but we’ll run most people over in an effort to get them done. Additionally, they’re dangerous because they get all fired up and go like gangbusters when they’re pushed to the limit of time and ability.
In an of itself, being productive when the situation warrants isn’t a bad thing. The problem arises when this is the only time when they are productive. And it often causes immense amounts of stress and anxiety on the junky and on those around him or her. The way to best manage this adrenaline junky side of ourselves is to find a way to categorize our problems. It’s something I call the tyranny of the urgent.
In the tyranny of the urgent we have four basic categories. Each category contains its own challenges and limitations. We’ll start with the less desirable of the categories and end with what I consider the sweet spot for productivity! We’ll spend time in each of these areas in our lives, but our goal is to move into the most productive quadrant for the majority of our work. This is where we’ll end up in this week’s blog.
First is the high importance – high urgency category. This category as you can tell by its name is focused on doing good and important things but always doing them in a hurry. They’re urgent. They need done and they need done now! Living in this arena really feeds the adrenaline junky! This is where I used to live. This quadrant is filled with deadlines that are coming too soon. The tasks generally get done but only because we’re slamming energy drinks and pulling all nighters. We get short with our family and friends. We pull back from social activities because too much needs done! When we start to prioritize our tasks and categorize our lists we can get out of the important/urgent quadrant and into a less stressful situation.
The second quadrant is low importance – high urgency. These are the tasks we get sucked into right now that have little bearing on our life or organization. It’s the idea of doing something in a hurry that really doesn’t need to be done. The longer we stay in this quadrant, the more tired we become. There’s very low reward for the speed and urgency with which we work. The task while nice to finish is not rewarding and gives us very little sense of accomplishment. It merely leaves us exhausted with little to show for it. When we see these tasks of lesser importance as fillers rather than urgent must-do’s, then they can be nice breaks from reality. Creating lists and time blocks for doing work is a great way to get unstuck from this quadrant.
The third quadrant is low importance – low urgency. This section is riddled with problems. Whereas the first quadrant was all about adrenaline and getting the task done, this is really revolving around laziness. There are no deadlines and the work really doesn’t need done to begin with. You do things that don’t matter to anyone, even yourself if you’re being honest. You do them at any pace necessary so there’s no need for drive or self motivation. Having some of these tasks as fillers in our day to day schedule ins’t a problem. But when this is our home work zone, we’re in a dangerously lazy and pathetic place! We need to find purpose and passion. When we have our purpose and passion and goals in life, then this quadrant is just for our rest times and not for our life’s work.
Finally the sweet-spot, the high importance – low urgency quadrant. This is where the most rewarding work is done. This is where deadlines are met. Productivity goes through the roof. And you are fed by the work you do and those with whom you do it. You’re not exhausted emotionally, physically and mentally at the end of the day. You’re fed by the work. The more you do the more energized you become, because you know the work has purpose and that the deadlines aren’t so pressing that you feel you’re going to break. This is where we do our best work for the long haul!
Next week we’ll continue this discussion on urgency and importance by looking at a couple tools I use for scheduling and task management. Until then do the work that needs done before it needs done and watch your attitude and productivity sore!