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Urgent or Important?

You're in the middle of spending some much needed time with your good friend. After all, you have had so many things "pop up" that have kept you from this long awaited date. It is a great time, laughing, telling stories and getting caught up on each other's goings on. Your friend begins telling you of a dire situation involving their family that requires some good counsel. You sense the seriousness of their circumstance and really focus on listening.

Suddenly, your phone rings. You immediately pick it up and see on your caller ID that it's your office assistant. You interrupt your friend mid-conversation to answer the call and after a few seconds of chatter, your assistant asks if they can borrow your tennis racquet. Aaaarrrrrgh!

Missed opportunity!

I cannot tell you how many times in my life that this kind of situation has happened. No doubt, you've had similar things happen. Inevitably, all of us are faced with the need to determine what is important and what is urgent.

Urgent may not necessarily mean the most important. President Dwight Eisenhower once wrote, "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." In fact, the "Eisenhower Box" was developed to help folks in determining just that; the difference in urgent and important.

It can be a real struggle sometimes, especially for folks who constantly try and please other people.

Here are a few items to keep in mind when prioritizing the urgent versus the important things in your life.

  1. Right up front; clear the deck. What I mean is, when meeting up with someone or are beginning a conversation, let your friend know of an important call that may interrupt your conversation or meeting.

  2. Silence your phone. The next item goes hand-in-hand with #1. Just remember, you don't have to take every incoming phone call! You know the feeling you get when someone you are speaking with interrupts the conversation to take (or make) a phone call. It may make you think that what you and they are talking about really is not that important. Mind your manners!

  3. Hair on fire. I remember a good friend of ours responding to one of her children when they were toddlers. The child had come up to her and continued to call out, "Mommy, Mommy." After about the fourth echo, our friend asked our pardon and looked at her child and asked, "Is your hair on fire?". Her child answered by telling her that she wanted a piece of gum. Our friend asked the question again. At that, her child replied, "No, ma'am", and walked away to play with her friends. The message behind her question actually accomplished what she wanted her child to understand. That was a basic understanding that, to the child, her request may have been urgent (in her mind), it was certainly not important at the moment.

  4. Be empathetic. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. If you continue to put other people first, you can keep their feelings and responses, top of mind. In doing so, the next time something happens that interrupts an appointment, you'll be more cognizant to think if something is truly urgent or really important.

  5. Urgent is temporary; Important is long-term. A good way of helping you determine if something is urgent or if it's important is to quickly ask yourself, "Is this something that will wait until later or does it really require my immediate attention?".

So, go meet your best friend and really enjoy yourself even more by stopping and thinking a few seconds before that most important moment!

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