Generally speaking, I am pretty good under pressure. This can take the form of final revisions the night before the presentation, or conference calls lined up back-to-back. The endorphin gets going and you can ignore the pain. The dopamine gets going and you feel the achievement. If it’s team-based work, the serotonin gets going and it feels like you are “taking one for the team.” All these happiness chemicals in your body – getting you addicted to a performance high of last-minute work. Yikes, do I really want to live this way? Isn’t it better to do the slow-important, not urgent, things?

Are you good under pressure? Most consultants and motivated folks reading this blog get a thrill out of crushing work – especially at the last minute. We feel busy = we feel important. If I have 10+ things to get done, isn’t it logical that I triage the most urgent and important things first? Sound like I work in the emergency department, right?

Problem #1: You will make lots of small mistakes. These may be non-fatal, but the last-minute run-up doesn’t give you enough time to proof-read. Typos, missing page numbers, mismatched font.

Problem #2: This starts to get old. You might like it – but trust me – your family, friends, team mates, managers don’t. While the nervous kinetic energy might be empowering for you, it’s annoying to them.

Problem #3: We are not working smart. Team work is about playing to our strengths, getting leverage, the whole > sum of the parts. If we are the bottleneck, this little “production system” is a little broken.

Problem #4: We are focusing on urgent tactics, not strategy. The important, big, long-term, and life-affirming stuff get’s ignored. We are picking up nickels off the floor, instead looking for Benjamins.

I don’t need time, I need a deadline.  – Albert Einstein

What to do? We are all at different S-curves of our life and no generality will apply to both you and me. That said, Steven Covey did have it right idea in 1989 when he created this 2×2 matrix below.

You have all seen this before. What is important?  More blue, less green, less red. Go for the blue.  Eisenhower said this first, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” (hat tip: Pierre)

Bain & Company says this another way here.

  • Not important. We should work to either automate it, outsource it, or ignore it. Read Tim Ferriss 4 Hour Work Week (affiliate link). FOMO can be a huge distraction.
  • Important and urgent. Yikes, yes, depending on the project lifecycle, this happens.
  • Important and not-urgent. Seems like this could be a new definition of wealth.  Wealth of time, wealth of attention, wealth of resources. How much deliberate practice are you spending on things that matter long-term, but oddly, are not urgent. Boom.

Important, not urgent. Yes, the more we invest in things that are IMPORTANT, NOT URGENT the more we win. Developing your craft, developing relationships, putting assets to work, and writing. For me, this looks like:

  • Spending time with family – sometimes just “hanging out”
  • Investing and mentoring others
  • Writing and podcasting – developing a consulting platform
  • Traveling – I talk about it alot, don’t do enough of it
  • Leaning out my day-to-day, repetitive tasks: a-u-t-o-m-a-t-e

What does your Important, Not Urgent list look like?

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