The Difference Between Urgent and Important
Many club managers have said that they feel they spend all of their time ‘putting out fires’ and managing one crisis after another. Some maintain - ‘It’s just the job”. The one thing that is agreed on is that crisis management is draining, saps you of energy and leads you to think – ‘did I achieve anything of real significance or progress today’.
The question is, can you do anything about it?
The answer may lie in a clearer and more considered differentiation between what is urgent and what is important.
Stephen Covey popularised the theory in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. However, it is first credited to Dwight D Eisenhower, the successful military general and United States president.
At the core of the theory, is Eisenhower’s assertion that:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Understanding the Terms
Central to differentiating the two types of tasks and activities, that, as a club manager you will face, is defining and understanding them.
Urgent tasks are those that require immediate attention, are thrust upon you and scream out ‘do me now’. They usually put us in a reactive, negative, defensive mode and we approach them in a rush and with tunnel vision – this is the only thing that has my attention right now.
Important tasks are typically longer-term and contribute to the club’s values, vision, mission and goals. Working on important tasks puts us in a responsive mode, in which we remain controlled, logical, rational and able to see other connections and opportunities around us.
It sounds straight forward, yet many managers fall into the trap of believing that all urgent tasks are important. The difficulty in making the distinction is partly because of our genetic make-up. Our primitive ancestors were pre-disposed to focus on the short-term as opposed to thinking about the future. This was in response to survival and the daily life or death situations the prevailed during those times.
And, whilst we have evolved, modern technology has tapped into our genetic disposition to react to immediate stimuli. Smartphones with messaging alerts, Instagram, Facebook feeds and 24-hour information are constantly signalling our brains that something needs our attention. It has been coined ‘present-shock’, a condition where we ‘live in the now’ at the expense of looking at the bigger picture and considering the longer-term consequences.
As such, it is difficult to distinguish between what is really important and what presents itself as urgent. However, the consequence of this priority hijack can be harmful. It can lead to burn-out and stress and an inability to solve those problems that need heightened focus and commitment.
Both Eisenhower and Covey presented the distinction between urgent and important as a quadrant or matrix. The quadrant consists of the following four relationships:
Important and Urgent
Important but Not Urgent
Not Important but Urgent
Not Important and Not Urgent
The tasks in quadrant 1 are both important and urgent, requiring our immediate attention and also significant in realising longer-term goals and objectives, for you and the club.
They can consist of deadlines, problems and crises, and examples, in a club environment, maybe:
Certain communications (a member request, a team member calling in sick, a supplier unable to fulfil a delivery, etc.)
System installation and change deadlines (New EFTPOS systems)
Reporting deadlines (Board meeting report, Financials)
Work Health and Safety issues
Dealing with tasks in quadrant 1 is about being efficient and effective – knocking over the task as quickly as possible and to a quality standard. This is not always easy, as rushing a job and doing it well can be opposing forces.
This is where planning and organisation can help. Instead of waiting until the last minute, plan to start work on your board report a couple of weeks before it’s due. Or, in the case of equipment failure, scheduling and having regular maintenance can prevent a sudden work stoppage.
Important and urgent tasks will always infiltrate your to-do list. However, you can reduce their occurrences by planning and dealing with them in quadrant 2, before they ‘jump the divide’ into the time-critical and stressful quadrant 1.
Task and activities in quadrant 2 will help achieve important work goals as well as fulfil the overall mission for you and the club. They don’t, however, having pressing deadlines.
Quadrant 2 tasks can be categorised as planning, relationship building and self-improvement activities. Examples include:
Short-Term (daily/weekly) and long-term planning (strategic plans/budgets)
Brainstorming and think tanks
Working lunch with the CEO
Process improvement and change projects
Reading journals and club magazines
Work-Life Balance time
Training and Professional Development (for you and your team members)
Both Eisenhower and Covey maintain that most of our time should be spent in quadrant 2 as there is a direct correlation between these tasks and success, career satisfaction and life contentment.
Again, it sounds easy, however, many managers struggle to maximise time in quadrant 2 because they don’t know what is truly important to them.
Club Managers are typically thrust into the role with a variety of key performance indicators to meet. How you approach your job should be closely linked to the values and goals that matter most to you. If you don’t know what they are, then you will find it difficult to determine how you should spend your time. You will be caught in reacting to the first request made or the most urgent task on your list. And remember, your predisposed default is to be motivated by a deadline – the adrenalin rush and momentary high of getting something done ‘just in the nick of time’
Because they aren’t screaming for our attention, quadrant 2 activities get pushed aside into the ‘I’ll get to them when I’ve finished the urgent stuff’ basket. Unfortunately, because of this mindset, a vicious loop is created and that list of urgent tasks never clears itself.
Taking that step back and asking yourself ‘what’s really important here’ can make the difference. Consciously, intentionally and proactively deciding to prioritise quadrant 2 activities is the key.
In this quadrant, tasks are urgent (require your attention) but are not important because they are not assisting you to work towards goals and fulfil the mission. Interruptions and helping other people achieve their work commitments, priorities and goals, are the main source of quadrant 3 activities. Examples include:
Phone calls, emails and text messages
Team members asking for help or a favour
CEO or Senior manager requesting your input
Some of these may fit into quadrant 1, however, most are genuine quadrant 3 activities. Because, whilst they may be important to others, they are not important to you or the club.
The difficulty in distinguishing quadrant 3 activities from quadrants 1 or 2 is that they feel important. Helping out others makes you feel good, gives you a sense of completion and tells you you’re a part of the team.
However, you may be suffering from ‘nice manager’ syndrome, constantly trying to please others at the expense of doing the important things, for you and the club. Quadrant 3 tasks aren’t necessarily bad, they just need to be balanced with quadrant 2 activities. Too much time spent in quadrant 3 can lead to frustration and even resentment towards those team members and stakeholders you’re trying to please and help.
Quadrant 4 tasks aren’t important nor are they urgent. They don’t need to be done and they don’t assist in goal achievement. They can be categorised as distractions. Examples include:
Scrolling the internet
Looking at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Chatting with team members about the weekend or the footy results
Whilst, quadrant 4 tasks have no correlation to personal and work goals and achievements they have their place. Nobody can complete a full workday with 100% focus. Those that think they do, would be shocked to realise their decreased productivity over a day. Instead of considering these things as just time wasters, recognise them as useful in re-charging your batteries and getting ready to go again.
You don’t need to completely eliminate quadrant 4 activities; they just need to be limited to a small amount of your total activity time.
For club managers, the ability to distinguish between what’s really important and what is presenting itself as urgent is a powerful skill. Filtering out the noise when making a decision, is about asking the question – “Is what I am about to do important, or am I going to do it simply because it’s urgent?” Or even “What would happen if I didn’t do this task?”
Spending most of your time in quadrant 2 has many benefits.
Time spent organising, planning and scheduling prevents crises and problems occurring
You’ll have an increased sense of control and composure in your role
You’ll build emotional and physical strengths to deal with emergencies, annoyances and deadlines proactively
You are better positioned to balance the requests of others with your own needs
You’ll enjoy those time-out periods (quadrant 4) without the guilt
The Club Managers Association of Australia (CMAA) has been supporting and developing club managers to achieve high levels of leadership and management ability for many years. The training and development of knowledgeable and motivated leaders that are capable of achieving greatness on behalf of their clubs is a passion of the CMAA. To this end, they offer the professional certification - the Active Certified Club Managers Award (ACCM).
Individuals who hold the ACCM, have demonstrated that they possess the skills, have the range of knowledge and can model behaviours that drive premium results for their club.
The foundation stone of the ACCM is the Club Managers Leadership and Management program, an online, training course, delivered by elevateB (a specialist training company) and independently endorsed by Australis College (a Registered Training Organisation)
The Club Managers Leadership and Management program has been modelled on the Diploma of Leadership and Management, ensuring it covers a full gambit of management and leadership topics. Importantly, it has been tailored and contextualised for club environments and day to day club management situations. To successfully complete the program, participants are required to demonstrate required knowledge, skills and abilities through application and activity submissions.
For more information on the Club Managers Leadership and Management program, click here.