President Dwight D. Eisenhower is quoted as saying, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.”
Most of us can identify with Ike’s predicament. We face a lot of tasks in our daily work that need to be done but are not necessarily value-added to advance our careers. And we tend to put off the important learning activities that will grow our self-confidence and career knowledge in exchange for solving immediate problems.
Ike’s Four Categories
If we dissect the Eisenhower Principle and apply it to our calendars and to-do lists, we will find, perhaps, time to dedicate to personal growth and still be able to help others achieve their goals.
Important and Urgent
Important and urgent tasks are those that help us grow in knowledge and are recognized as developing our careers. For example, responding to a short deadline request for your consulting services is an important and urgent task. Addressing a quality deviation on the production line is important and urgent. These tasks should take a high priority on our calendars and to-do lists. It is also helpful to review the outcomes of important and urgent tasks through reflection to improve our performance next time.
Important but Not Urgent
Activities that are important but not urgent typically have a longer term payoff. These may include attending networking meetings or trade conferences. Often we delay the important but not urgent tasks because there is not a deadline for the activity.
Of course, creating an artificial deadline can spur us to moving the important but not urgent tasks to a higher priority. Professional development frequently falls into the category of important but not urgent, yet most professional certifications require professional development hours (PDH) for renewal to maintain the credential. Instead of waiting until the last minute to try to cram in 40 or 60 hours of study, set a target of completing at least 5 hours every quarter. In this way, you meet the requirements, but crucially, you gain useful knowledge on an ongoing basis to build your professional toolkit and reputation.
Urgent but Not Important
One of the reasons we push off the important but not urgent tasks is we choose to spend our time on urgent but not important activities. These tasks may be necessary to keep our jobs but should be minimized as much as possible. Generally, the urgent but not important chores do not require our strangest capacity of focus or concentration. In Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work,” he recommends blocking these type of tasks together. For example, you can do email, respond to LinkedIn messages, and re-tweet relevant business information when your energy and focus are at a low point. You should save your highest energy for the most important tasks.
Not Urgent and Not Important
These time-wasters should be eliminated if at all possible. Items that fall into the not urgent/not important category include much of our email, Facebook, and surfing the internet. You can purge non-relevant email by unsubscribing from lists and newsletters, and by creating “rules” to handle and segregate urgent or important email from one-way, informational communications. In “Deep Work,” Newport recommends replacing the shallow relationships on Facebook with deeper meaning and understanding with friends over lunch or by engaging in the arts.
Learning is Important and Urgent
While we often categorize learning as an important but not urgent task, gaining professional knowledge and certifications should be both important and urgent. Most professional credentials result in higher salaries and increased responsibility on the job. Treating learning as a task that is not urgent means you are not assigning it the same priority as responding to email or attending a meeting. While these activities are required to sustain your current position and to satisfy your boss, you must also consider your own personal growth plan to advance your career. Then, learning becomes both important and urgent!
You can take the first step to advancing your career with a professional credential as a New Product Development Professional (NPDP) or a Project Management Professional (PMP™). Learn about professional development at Simple-PDH.com where we want to help you gain and maintain your professional certifications. You can study, learn, and earn – it’s simple! Please also feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 281-280-8717. Remember learning must be important and urgent!
Study. Learn. Earn. Simple.
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