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  • Focus on the important not the urgent

  • In our daily work lives it is so easy to get swept away dealing with time-consuming tasks that seem urgent. So we procrastinate and often do not attend to, or do not give sufficient consideration to the really important projects. How many times have you looked at your watch at the end of the day and said “where did the day go?” and realized that you have not done any or most of, what you intended. That is what happens when you allow the seemingly urgent to dictate your priorities.

    We all have truly urgent tasks that hijack our days and what a client of mine called “time thieves,” – things that you cannot avoid that just take over your time and priorities. This often is especially true of the need to focus on a project. So many capable people find themselves not attending to projects or often only dealing with them at the last minute (without the attention that their importance requires) and therefore ending up with the need for a deadline extension and/or a less than satisfactory product.
    Imagine getting a reputation for being someone who regularly delivers quality work on time. The following tips will facilitate focusing on the issues that will provide real value to your function and career:

    • Keep a list of important projects that you need to keep in focus;
    • Break each of those projects down into small steps so that you can:
    • Get started, make progress and get a feeling of accomplishment in reasonable time allocations;
    • Having a list of the steps enables you to feel like the project is achievable. Often a project is too large to get one’s arms around until a plan is mapped out. It is easier to make a commitment to the plan when you view it as  a written list of achievable steps;
    • Starting the project often breaks the back on something that seems like more than you can accomplish & gives you a feeling of “I can do it!” which removes the prime motivator for procrastinating;
    • Sometimes you may even achieve that feeling of “I am on a roll” and this will enable you to put other less important things aside;
    • Set interim deadlines for accomplishing each step in the plan so that you know when you need to prioritize even more…long before the deadline for the entire project;
    • Take baby steps to help overcome resistance;
    • Set aside time every day to work on the important. It is amazing how much can be accomplished in an hour. Become accustomed to making progress on major projects every day (or at least most days). Consider the alternative, its impact on your department, your organization and your career. Try to plan your day so that the important is prioritized over the seemingly urgent. This is often achieved by focusing on the priorities early in the day, before your day is consumed by the “urgent”;
    • Be prepared to close your office door, not to take phone calls and close your email for a period of time, so that you can focus without interruptions;
    • In many office cultures it is possible to discuss task allocation and priorities with the members of your team, especially when you are overloaded;
    • Recognize that most executives do not lack  the motivation to achieve their priorities, they merely lack the strategies and actions that will enable them to ensure that they achieve what is important;
    • If you are in a hole, stop digging! Make changes and you will see a difference. Make those changes to the way you operate on a daily basis and they will, after a few weeks, become a habit.  Just do it!

    Finally, consider the impact that you could have on your organization if you start changing the culture from it being acceptable to deliver low quality work and miss deadlines, to one where you set an example by being able to accomplish your priorities. Get started today!

    James Phillipson is a Chartered Accountant and a Principal of Mastermind Solutions Inc. with over twenty years experience in large and small businesses.  He has provided financial counselling to his clients since 1996, often in the role of or as a coach to a Controller or Chief Financial Officer.  James has experience in financial roles in a wide variety of businesses and industries.