I suspect that Stephen Covey is right when he commented that the “urgent” things in our life rather than the “important” things drive many of us. The distinction between these two things comes down to whether those “things” further our goals, the long-term ones that give our life meaning. If we’re repeatedly running from one urgent task to another urgent task then we’re not focusing or working on the big picture view of our lives.
Of course, Stephen Covey isn’t the only one telling us how important it is to plan, to be mindful of our goals – both short and long term ones – since most (if not all) time management experts address this concept. When we avoid planning, it’s that much easier to focus our time and energy on working on those urgent tasks. The urgent tasks tend to be in our face – virtually demanding our attention or something bad will happen, often the crises.
Yet if we only think about the immediate things that need our attention, when do work on the things that actually have value for our lives? And don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to shift our focus.
One of the most helpful ways to tackle this, for me anyway, was to think about the roles in my life. Each role that I fill has meaning – whether it’s required or voluntary – and deserves my time and energy. Not necessarily equal time and energy mind you. So I made a list (and yes I do like lists) of what different areas of my life I wanted to spend time and energy on.
We’re not all going to have identical lists – though many of us have jobs and families – both of which need our attention. The idea is to keep it relatively short since ideally you’ll set aside at least a little time each week for these areas of your life. This could relate to Your Needs and Values – as some people might put Spirituality on their list – for me, that’s contained in my Personal category. My list has evolved over time but I’m currently working with 5 areas that I want to attend to each week: Business, Household, Volunteering, Relationship, and Personal.
This means when I look at both my calendar and to-do list, I am actively thinking about when I will focus on the various areas. It doesn’t mean that it always works as I planned; yet it’s not supposed to. “Urgent” tasks do come up and it’s not about ignoring or avoiding those. It’s about making sure your life isn’t driven by those urgent tasks.
It means that we’ll have less regret at the end of the week, month, and year. We’ll know that we’ve directed our energy toward things that matter to us – personally. It doesn’t matter if you make a list of your categories; it doesn’t matter if you create a mission statement for yourself; it doesn’t matter how you go about it. What does matter is finding a way that works for you to make the most out of your life in the big picture view. How else does your life have a greater meaning?