Make it Urgent!

Category: Strategy Published on Apr 11 2017

I was once trapped in a room listening to a speaker talk about goal setting. You know the feeling, it’s a topic you’ve heard many times before and you are confident that there is nothing new you can learn. The best you can do is hope for an interesting presenter and sit in the back so you can check your email. Therefore, I was surprised when I experienced a big Aha! moment in the middle of the presentation.

It all started with the speaker’s fifth point: goals are meant for the things that you wouldn’t necessarily do anyway. While they work for things you do on a daily basis, like meeting production goals, their real value lies in motivating you to prioritize and follow through on those things that are easy to ignore.


If you’ve read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey you may remember his Time Management Matrix. Along one dimension, the things we do are measured based upon their importance; the second dimension evaluates the urgency of these same tasks. In the upper right quadrant we find those tasks that are important but not urgent.


When we evaluate how much time we spend in each quadrant, we usually find that the majority of our time is spent on tasks that are urgent. Some may be important, many are not. Very little time is spent on important and not urgent tasks. And yet, this is where we will usually gather the most return on our efforts and goals. Per Mr. Covey, time spent in this quadrant results in vision, balance, discipline, control, and fewer crises. It allows us to anticipate and avoid painful situations and enables us to move ahead in a purposeful and deliberate method.


This particular morning, I suddenly merged these two ideas into one and realized how they were connected. I had always intuitively known that strategy and goals were about getting us to think bigger and spend time on things that might get pushed aside in favor of ‘getting things done.’ Now, I saw clearly how they are linked.


In the follow up conversation at my table, we were asked to create goals. One of the individuals at my table (let’s call her Carol) mentioned a long-term goal that she had been chasing for several months. Because Carol wasn’t sure that it was immediately achievable she was pushing it aside in favor of a goal that related to her daily work load. After sharing my Aha! moment with Carol, we chatted further about this goal.


Using my usual approach, I asked her if she was able to break this goal down into smaller pieces that she could complete in 15 minutes or less. In very short order, I learned that Carol had an alternative method of making sure she accomplished this non-urgent goal. Carol simply made it urgent by adding a non-negotiable deadline to it. She asked someone else to plan an event that was contingent upon her completing her goal.


This is genius! And it was my second Aha! moment of the morning. There are two equally valuable ways to address important but not urgent goals.

 - My favored way is to make it a priority, break it down into small pieces, and then schedule short periods of time to work on it. This approach has always worked well for me.

 - Carol’s approach is to change the goal from non-urgent to urgent by attaching a non-negotiable deadline to it. I’ve seen other people I know successfully apply this approach to writing a book by pre-selling copies before it is even written.


So I challenge you today. What would you like to accomplish that is important but not urgent? How can you either break down this goal into little pieces and schedule it in or move it to being important and urgent?


I wish you a pleasurable journey to accomplishing your goal.