The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

September 13, 2013

Career Coach: Making truly important tasks a top priority

"Things which matter most, should never be at the mercy of things which matter least." — Johann von Goethe

Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? I imagine so. Whether you have children who just went back to school or you find the demands from colleagues, clients, family members, friends and others suddenly increasing, the feeling of being besieged with lots of things to do seems to have hit many people.

It is easy to wonder if we have the balance right between doing what's really important for us versus what others want us to do.

As leadership guru Stephen Covey might say, its time to put "first things first." Traditional time management techniques focus on having us work harder, smarter and faster in order to gain control over our lives. Yet, as he points out, this type of control will not lead to peace and fulfillment. Instead, we need to focus on doing what is important to us, not just what is urgent.

So, how do we accomplish this?

Covey categorizes our activities into four quadrants by importance and urgency. Important things are those that contribute to our mission and goals. Urgent things are pressing things that demand our immediate attention. There are things we do that are unimportant and urgent (e.g., interruptions, some meetings); things that are unimportant and not urgent (e.g., junk mail, busywork); things that are important and urgent (crises, deadline-driven projects) and then things that are important and not urgent (e.g., relationship building, values clarification).

He notes that we need to spend more time on things that are important, rather than simply urgent. If we really thought about our day, we probably would see that we spend a lot of time on urgent, unimportant things.

He shares a story from one of his associates about the "big rocks" and the importance when filling a jar, to put the big rocks in first, followed by gravel, then sand and finally water. The point is that unless you put the big rocks (i.e., the things that really matter to you) first in the jar, you won't be able to get them in once all the little things are in the jar. As he mentions, we can be surprised by how much sand, gravel and water we can still get in to fill in the spaces once we put the big rocks in.

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