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Why "Urgent" Is Not a Priority
 

How to keep urgent -- but not important -- tasks from taking over your day.

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Setting priorities. Discipline in execution. These are the two things almost all entrepreneurs struggle with, whether they’re in the start-up phase or are leading relatively mature companies.

One of the graduates of a mentoring program I participate in recently returned to share the lessons that had been most helpful to her, both professionally and personally. What was at the top of the list? I should have been able to guess: Setting priorities, and discipline in execution. Here are a few ways to increase your success at both.

Write a mission/vision/guiding-light/whatever-you-want-to-call-it statement:

This statement will identify the goals that will help your company to succeed. It should cover what your company does, how your product or service is unique, and who you are selling to. Here’s how to write a decent one:

  • Write in plain English. You don’t need to post it on your website or proclaim it from the mountain tops. (And I doubt you need a consultant to write it for you.)
  • Allow enough leeway for the business to grow and pivot, but not so much that the company is trying to be all things to all people.
  • Get key staff involved to make sure you are all headed in the same direction.
  • After testing your statement for a few weeks, use the final draft as a guideline for allocating resources.
  • Remember: You wrote the mission statement. If you need to, you can change it.

Articulating your mission can help you mobilize resources and assets more effectively. Often, these statements force entrepreneurs to confront their time management skills – or lack thereof. When it comes to achieving success for the business, what is your most valuable skill set? Do you spend most of your time using those skills? Are you willing and able to surround yourself with people who complement your strengths?

Learn to predict the future and avoid distraction

The time management matrix of urgent vs important tasks (said to be based on a concept from a Stephen Covey book) has been the topic of a number of authors, including some who focus on entrepreneurs (here and here).

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • If something is important and urgent, accomplish it now.
  • If something is urgent but not important, try to avoid it.
  • If something is important but not urgent, plan for it and get it done.
  • If something is neither important nor urgent, skip it. Why waste your time?

Obviously, you need to spend time on things that are important. Urgency does not in itself deserve your attention. Things that are urgent are time-sensitive by their nature – but that’s it.

Less obviously:

  • Important items are guaranteed to move from “Not Urgent” to “Urgent” if you don’t make sufficient time for them.
  • Urgent things often feel important, even if they are not.

When you know what to look for, you’ll discover that distraction due to urgency is everywhere. The real devils here are the items that are not important but appear urgent, because time sensitivity is easily mistaken for importance.

By knowing your mission, positioning your resources accordingly, and learning to recognize those things that truly require your attention, you can keep the ‘urgents’ from taking over your day.

IMAGE: Flickr/adesigna
Last updated: Jun 14, 2012

LAURA STRONG: Laura E. Strong, Ph.D., is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Quintessence Biosciences, a cancer drug development company. Dr. Strong's primary responsibility is advancing the company's proprietary cancer therapies through human clinical trials to market. A major component of this work has been the development and execution of a regulatory and clinical strategy for a protein-based cancer therapeutic. She writes about cancer drug development, equity investing and other relevant topics at The Next Element blog and on Twitter as @scientre. Dr. Strong serves as co-chair of the review committee for the Madison Entrepreneur Resource, Learning and Innovation Network (MERLIN). She has served as President of the Board of Directors for the biotechnology association for Wisconsin, BioForward. As an NIH fellow, Dr. Strong earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the UW-Madison. She is co-author of fourteen publications and co-inventor on four issued patents.
@scientre




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