Archives for posts with tag: Important

We live in a world where scarcity prevails. There’s not enough resources to go round. There’s not enough time in the day. We don’t have enough money to do everything we want to do. Fact.

So it is with how we organise our own time, how we prioritise, and how we marshal our own resources. We can’t get to everything, not even close.

This is how I deal with everyday questions and how I approach a lot of things, in life and in work. I ask myself, does it matter? If it matters, do it, if it doesn’t, chances are you don’t need to bother with it.

I’ll give you a mundane example: cooking. You find a recipe you like, but it lists a lot of ingredients, and one or two of them you don’t have or can’t get. Ask yourself if it matters that you don’t have coriander, but you have some oregano. Probably not. What if it calls for 350g of this and 150ml of that. Does it matter if you’ve not used the exact amount the recipe calls for? Probably not, it’s near enough ‘as makes no odds’ as my northern English pals would say. Now, with something like baking, or so I’m told, it does benefit you to use the exact ingredients and the exact measurements, in which case, yes it does matter.

When it comes to navigating the resources and time at my disposal, and the myriad tiny questions that might crop up in the course of the day, I use ‘does it matter?’ as my guide. Quicker decisions, less agonising, mental paralysis and hand-wringing.

A while ago I wrote about the distinction between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ when it comes to work, tasks, jobs and so on. On another occasion I wrote about the differences between liking something and something being ‘good’. It’s time to revisit these themes, or more specifically the word important.

When we think about things and events, we often have to make a judgment on them. There’s a subjective way of reaching a decision and answering the question, and an objective way of getting there too.

‘Do you like this song?’ ‘Is it a good product?’ ‘What do you think of iTunes?’ What about this development? You can give a subjective answer, by saying whether you like it, or whether you think it’s good. You can also choose not to answer it and say, ‘well, it’s important.’

You could argue, of course, that you’re still making a subjective judgment on the weight or value you attach to something. My view is that you’re rising above the personal preferences and saying, in effect, I’m not saying whether I like it or not, or whether it’s good: I’m simply saying it merits respect because of what it does.

Of course, by saying something’s not important, you’re also implying it’s not even worth addressing subjectively. You’re not going to bother assessing whether you like it, or whether it’s good, you’re done with it.

 

One of the first business lessons I learnt was about prioritising between urgent and important.

In a busy business there are 10 important things you should do every day, and yet you will only properly address 3 of them. Something has to give.

Of all the things you need to do, what are the important ones? What are the urgent ones? Are any both? Are any neither? If they’re neither, well that’s obvious. If the thing you need to do is urgent, but not important, you shouldn’t do it. You should delegate it or discount it altogether, but communicate to the would-be beneficiary the reason for your decision as early as you can so they’re not left in the lurch.

So that leaves you with the important things, and let’s assume for now you have all the important things on your list, including the things you’re avoiding, afraid of, or don’t want to do. While it makes loads of sense to break big things into smaller pieces in order to make progress, the temptation is to do the small important things first, to get them out of the way, because you know that you have to do the big important thing anyway so it will get done come hell or high water.

This approach puts you under unnecessary pressure, affects the quality of your work and turns your long day into an even longer one, which you can sustain for only so long. So how to rank the important things, some of which might be urgent? Some ‘managing up’ is required here, because your boss might be leaning on you for the output that she or he feels is the must important and pressing. What should drive the ranking is the only criterion that really matters, namely the value to your customers. You need to communicate early and often with your boss and make them aware of what is driving the order of the things you need to do.

And what if you can’t separate that handful of things that are all of equal weight and all help your customers be more successful? Well, then you need to get help or suck it up, safe in the knowledge that you are driving up your value as you drive up the value of the people who are the reason you’re in business.