Getting Where You Want to Go: Remembering Priorities and Problem-Solving

prioritiesSuccessful time management is in large measure all about starting with the big things. This is how you go about almost any design and building process. With a kitchen remodel you begin with the major appliances, with a life remodel you build around your life goals.

Some people find it helpful to think of the problem of how to fit a pile of different sized rocks into a jar. If you pour them at random you end up taking up more space than you need to, but if you first fit all of the large rocks into the jar you can then fill the jar up with the smaller rocks.

Many of us don’t naturally do this. Rather than focusing first on things that are really important but not particularly urgent, we focus on those things that are less important and seem more urgent, or even waste time on things that seem easy to do quickly, but are neither urgent nor important.

In our clinic, we have incorporated this logic into our computer software and into our staff training. We regularly remind ourselves to think about problems in terms of two questions: is it important? and, is it urgent? It takes time to do this well, because the first inclination is to say that everything is important.

Stephen Covey talks of dividing tasks into “quadrants”. This is illustrated in the diagram at right.

The ” Building the Future ” part of the diagram represents the place where most creative thinking takes place. Many of us need to devote more time to this quadrant. The big things that are not urgent, but are very important fit problem solvinghere.

” Solving a Problem ” is usually pretty easy. This quadrant is about taking care of problems that are urgent and important. The only challenge is not getting overwhelmed by the problems.

” Feeling Busy ” is an American addiction. It is a place that seems productive and energetic but is actually not. It is about things that are urgent but really, when you take the time to think about it, they aren’t all that important. People who are “addicted” to excitement live here. They turn everything into a crisis, and don’t do anything until it is a crisis.

” Passing Time ” is what we do because we feel exhausted after spending so much time ” Feeling Busy” . It refers to things that are at best useless and may actually be destructive to our health and mental health (for instance, watching TV).

The books by Steven Covey are ones that we find we return to over and over again. David Allen’s book is a very important resource for maintaining focus and effectiveness in a world that is always bombarding us with more to do.

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