THE INC. LIFE

Are You Always Chasing The Urgent At The Expense Of The Strategic? Here’s How To Flip That.

Practical tips for breaking the cycle of getting consumed with working on the most urgent things but never getting to the real priorities that you know need your time.

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BY James Sudakow - 16 Feb 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

No matter what you read, most entrepreneurs and business leaders talk about how critical ruthless prioritization is as a singular driver of success.

There are a lot of ways to figure out what your top priorities should be, whether it's methods used by icons like Warren Buffett or a simple 5-step process the founder of a small business uses for herself to figure out how to make sense of the problem when everything becomes a priority.

I use three to five strategic filters or hurdles that every new thing needs to clear to even be considered as a strategic priority. It weeds out most things.

But this isn't an article about how to figure out what your strategic priorities should be. If you are like me, as an entrepreneur or leader you know what those things are for you.

When he was alive, my dad used to joke that companies spend the most time working on the least important things and the least time on the most important things. I think we've all felt that at some point.

The one constant battle I face every day is how to get the strategic things done while simultaneously playing some sort of AR video game where I try to knock out all of the "urgent" things that keep popping up like whack-a-moles.

Often, the problem isn't not knowing what the priorities are but why you can't seem to prioritize the priorities. Why does that urgent whack-a-mole stuff keep rising to the top and getting in the way?

On the surface, it seems like a "just do it" answer. If you know your priorities, you need to just rigorously do those things. But sometimes you need a little help figuring out how to "just do it."

Here are some things I have done for myself that really work:

Set up infrastructure to make sure you prioritize your strategic priorities

That might sound like circular mumbo jumbo, but there's actually something important in it. Without formal structure for the strategic priorities, you might just swing the bat at whatever comes your way first, which is usually non-strategic urgent stuff.

You need to create formal space for the strategic. Try these three things:

 

1. Allocate formal time for the strategic at the beginning of every week

Every Monday morning, I spend the first half of the day just working on my most important strategic things. It is a formal meeting in my calendar that is not movable and can't be interrupted unless the apocalypse is beginning (or something slightly less catastrophic).

I turn off my e-mail and don't keep my cell phone near me. I remove myself from any form of distraction. It's like a strategic retreat at the beginning of every week. Regardless of whether I do anything else strategic for the rest of the week, I've already secured and used solid strategic time.

 

2. Make it a formal practice to never do e-mail first thing in the morning

E-mail can be a rabbit hole that you may not come out of for hours (if you're lucky). We've all been there.

"I'll just respond to this one and then get back to what I was working on..."

Three hours later, you're still in there responding urgently to the e-mail about the kitchen refrigerator being cleaned out at 2 p.m. in a desperate attempt to save your bagel sandwich from getting tossed (I actually did that once and am coming clean on it now).

Even if you are working on important things, e-mail is reactive by nature and requires response. It's a good way to lose big chunks of time.

Try getting critical things done in the morning, and then checking your e-mail.

 

3. Set up formal urgency filters

It may seem basic, but without some way of determining what constitutes urgency, way too many things become urgent simply by default. This is especially true if the person waiting for your response on something believes that thing is really urgent.

There are lots of urgency filters you can put on things. My criteria is simply to ask myself if there will be any significant degradation to key parts of my business, in particular financial, customer service, or perception in the market, if I don't respond to this thing right now.

Most of the time there isn't. By putting these urgency filters on, I actually reduce what is truly urgent, which by default leaves more time for the strategic.

You can determine what your urgency filters are, but simply having the filters helps you figure out which moles to whack and which to leave alone.