Years ago I read a little book called the Tyranny of the Urgent. It’s a great read about allowing the unimportant trivialities of life crowding out the most important. We live in a distracted world, and every day in our jobs, personal health, and families, we willingly allow the crisis in front of us to take our eyes off what’s truly important.
This week, I looked up from my phone and there was an eleven-year-old young lady standing before me, and I remembered only scant flashes and glimmers of my eight-year-old daughter becoming this beautiful, young lady. Sure, I’m overemphasizing a tad, but the Tyranny of the Urgent has robbed me of focus, true accomplishment, quality, and significance in every aspect of my life. So it clicked when yesterday, I was reminded, “you are empowered to say No.”
Everyone has a Getting Things Done “GTD” suggestion to solve all of your problems. I don’t. I seem to always try new tools to get better, but it is a constant practice. I do, however, have some experience in trying to keep focus on what Stephen Covey calls the Quadrant II (Not Urgent, Important) matters.
Chart from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
7 Practices to Manage the Tyranny of the Urgent
1. Remember your purpose. Whether you meditate, pray, or take a minute on your commute to think without distraction, ask yourself the question every day “why am I really doing what I’m doing?”
2. Multitasking, isn’t. Maybe a better term is multi-distracting. We only focus on one thing at a time. Every switch in that focus is a distraction.
3. Unsubscribe from distractions. Whether it’s emails or telephone calls, politely get off the lists that are intended to distract you. Also, remove every alert that tells you that you have a new email. You are in charge of your email–not the other way around.
4. Remove email from your phone. Yep, I said it. If something is really urgent, the person will call or text you. Having email on your phone is distracts us from the present world. Whether with your family or at lunch with a colleague, the temptation to check out of the moment is too strong. Furthermore, it is inefficient to actually solve problems when you’re on the go.
5. Get into an email routine. If your house is on fire, you don’t email 911, right? Truly important matters rise above electronic communication, so don’t feel the obligation to be the emergency operation center with every email. Check your email at certain points in your day, every 90 minutes, or after lunch and before you go home–just be consistent. Whatever your routine, stick to it. If someone gets bent out of shape because they “sent you an email 30 minutes ago,” kindly tell them your routine and assure them that in the future you will be checking email at certain times. Again, if someone needs you, they will call.
6. Walk around. Multitasking gives the illusion of a fresh mind. The problem is you can really only focus for 30-45 minutes. Don’t switch tasks, get up and get a drink of water. Walking around for two minutes allows you to reset to the important and not the other distraction in front of you.
7. Be empowered. “You have control over this…” is a line my business partner used to always tell me when I was complaining about how busy my schedule was. As hard as it is to admit, you do have the power to use one short but highly effective word, “no.”
Most importantly, always be mindful of #1, and ask yourself regularly, “is this really helping me accomplish my purpose.” I’ve found that this regular exercise creates a cull pile of activities that only leave me tired, frustrated, and unsettled.