Urgent or Important?

Coaching clients often say, “I feel like I’m just putting out one fire after another and I never have time to step back and think about the big picture.” A Google search for prioritization generates 51 million results so it’s obviously a common struggle.

Sort Urgent and Important

In the number one most influential business book of the twentieth century, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described a matrix for sorting urgent and important activities. These quadrants are still relevant today:

1. Do – Important & Urgent: This is fire-fighting mode – dealing with a crisis, meeting a deadline, handling an irate client. Spending too much time here leaves us feeling stressed and burned out but we can get addicted to a temporary sense of accomplishment when we cross things off our list. Covey refers to this as “urgency addiction.” When we recognize what feeds the addiction, we can make a choice to focus on Quadrant 2 instead.

2. Plan – Important & Non-Urgent: Covey calls this the magic quadrant because spending more time planning, preventing problems and building relationships helps us feel calm and reduces the time we spend in Quadrant 1. One strategy I recommend is asking yourself, “Does it have to be me and does it have to be now?”

3. Delegate – Urgent & Not Important: When we allow ourselves to be constantly interrupted by texts, hallway conversations and responding to other people’s priorities, we can feel stuck and frustrated. Saying no can help us minimize the time we spend in this quadrant and give us more time for Quadrant 2.

4. Eliminate – Not Urgent & Not Important: These are the distractions that provide an escape when our brains are overloaded. It’s OK to take an occasional break to check social media or do a little online shopping as long as we don’t overdo it. Setting a timer is a good solution for this.

Prioritize

Answering these questions can help you determine whether you’re operating from a paradigm of urgency or importance:

  • What one thing could you do on a regular basis that would have significant positive results in your personal life?
  • What one thing in your professional life would bring similar results?

Most likely your answers will be in Quadrant 2 – Important & Non-Urgent. If you know these things would make a significant difference, how will you start prioritizing them now?

Why is it that every time my laptop acts up, the IT expert says, “have you tried rebooting it?” Because it works! It cleans up the junk and gives me fresh start. That sounds like a great way to start off a new year.

What to do With the Junk

Here is some junk that a reboot might clear out of our minds:
• Old grievances – imagine how energizing it would feel to let go and forgive
• Self-doubt – envision what could be possible if you move forward with confidence
• Ruminating thoughts – consider what inspiration could occur if you get off the gerbil wheel

Write it Down

A good way to get things out of your mind is to write them down, preferably on paper. Research tells us that handwriting increases neural activity in the brain, similar to meditation, but use your keyboard if that’s the best option to get you moving forward.

I invite you to take a deep breath and visualize rebooting your mind, then commit to taking action today.

In a recent coaching session a client shared a secret:  “I realized that the reason I haven’t been very productive since my move is that I don’t have anyone I can really talk to,” she said.  “I have work friends and attend networking events, but I don’t feel a deep connection to anyone.”

All the Lonely People

Loneliness is officially a public health crisis.  According to a 2018 survey, 22% of adults in the US and 23% in the UK say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, feel left out or isolated.  The number of single-occupant households is growing in Denmark, Germany and Canada.  Britain was the first nation in history to appoint a minister for loneliness.

As technology continues to make it easier to do things without interacting with each other, why should we make the effort?  Humans have survived because our brains are wired for connection.  There are serious physical and emotional consequences to spending too much time in isolation.

Less Judgement, More Listening

What should we do?  As Amy Banks points out in Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationship, “when you’re judging, you’re not listening… if you’re not judging, you can listen more and feel calmer,” which makes interacting with others much easier.  The author of Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration in Harvard Business Review recommends teaching people to listen so that judgment can give way to curiosity and people can value others’ perspectives as much as their own.  Brené Brown challenges us to “listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.”

Listening is the secret to the deep connection that creates nourishing relationships.  How can you claim this for yourself or offer it to someone else today?

A very results-oriented CEO, frustrated with what she perceived as a direct report’s lack of commitment, felt she had to choose between empathy and effectiveness.  This CEO has been working hard to embrace the concepts in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead™ , especially the idea that people are doing the best they can.

What Does That Really Mean?

We went back to the source for clarification: “Assuming positive intent does not mean that we stop helping people set goals or that we stop expecting people to grow and change.  It’s a commitment to stop respecting and evaluating people based solely on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing.”

Set Boundaries for Ourselves First

If a team member isn’t meeting expectations, it’s the leader’s job to have the tough conversation and hold that person accountable.  It is possible to do that with empathy but here’s the surprise – we have to set appropriate boundaries for ourselves first.  When the CEO acknowledged that her direct report’s best wasn’t good enough, she made the decision to let him go.  Defining that clear boundary for herself meant she didn’t have to choose between empathy and effectiveness.

What boundary do you need to strengthen to be both empathetic and effective?

Do you think of your phone as a connector or a disconnector?  The answer may be both, although research warns that having our phones where we can see them, even if they are turned off, means our brains don’t work as well.

What Did I Miss?

Interestingly, the process of not thinking about something depletes our limited cognitive resources.  If all our neurons aren’t firing we might miss important non-verbal cues that help us connect with people.

That concept might not have registered if you’re reading this on your phone — trying to ignore your phone actually makes it harder for you to connect.  Experiments on this phenomenon proved that our brains work best when our phones aren’t even in the room with us because we are so addicted to the adrenalin jolts we get every time we pick them up.

Higher EQ & IQ

Although your palms might be sweaty just thinking about disconnecting from your phone for a while, I invite you to take a deep breath and envision the benefits of better connections.  Bottom line:  leaving your phone out of sight could improve your EQ and your IQ.

On a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy are driving around in a Porsche Carrera talking about anything and everything.  Seinfeld says, “You know when you see two people talking, one of them is giving the other one advice…saying something like, ‘What I’ve learned…’ or ‘In my experience…’”

What Do You Think?

It’s funny because we know it’s true — we’ve all been on the sending and receiving end of unsolicited advice.  As this Psychology Today article confirms, however, being told what we should do actually makes us feel defensive.  When a coaching client asks for advice, I remind them that my job is to help them find their own answers.  If they insist, I might say, “What I’ve seen others do in a similar situation is…” and then ask, “How do you feel about that?”

Own It

Research tells us that giving advice appeals mostly to the rational parts of the brain.  I also want to engage the feeling part of the brain so my client can make the best possible decision – and own it.

As I’m writing, I realize that I need to practice this approach more in my personal life.  Is there anything you might need to change in how you respond when someone asks for advice? Here is a Harvard Business Review article that might be helpful.  Notice I didn’t say that you should read it!