What matters most

While knowing very well that something needs to be done, we often find ourselves delaying. Perhaps because we don’t like to do that particular activity or we may feel uncertain about our capacity to do it. There may be other reasons as well but the result is that what needs to be done is left undone. Instead, we look for other less important but perhaps more urgent issues to attend to and push the agenda forward. “I will do it tomorrow or next week or when the car is repaired or when the weather gets better or … never.”
Procrastination thus hinders us from achieving results. Needless interruptions, unimportant meetings, some phone calls, some emails and other people’s problems are examples of issues that may come our way and that we entertain instead of dealing with what is most important.  In order to be more effective in achieving what needs to be done, we need to know what our priorities are; otherwise we keep finding ourselves running in the rat race and away from achieving results.
Interestingly enough, important things are usually not very urgent. Many people enjoy attending to what seems to be something urgent and are busy being busy, while they should be doing something else more important instead. A typical not so urgent thing that is easily pushed forward is planning ahead. Planning ahead can prevent a lot of trouble later but we seem to prefer facing the crisis and end up fighting fires here and there. Planning for the sake of planning doesn’t help much either, especially if activities are not being carried out according to plan, and that happens a lot. Weddings provide a good example here. Quite a number of meetings are held to plan for a wedding, which is a very important occasion indeed. Many things need to be arranged like the limousines, flowers, the hall, the church, the meals, the drinks, the video, the dress and the invitations. During these planning meetings, people are assigned their tasks, which they eagerly agree to do. However, some of them will drag their feet and fail to do what they agreed to do, much to the disappointment of others. As we get closer to the wedding, the fire fighters and crisis managers come forward and all is well that ends well, but only at the cost of a lot of stress and uncertainty, while things could have easily gone wrong. The time spent planning is time well spent but only if the plan is carried out accordingly and adjusted in time if so required.
As mentioned above, proper planning can prevent a lot of trouble later. Do I have to mention the construction industry again? I see houses being built without properly planning the order in which things need to be done. As a result, walls and ceilings are broken up again for the plumber or electrician to come and lay their pipes and cables. The lack of planning also affects the quality of the end result as things are done in a hurry.
Planning, prevention and preparation are thus the issues we need to learn to focus on if we want to achieve results. And while plan “A” is ready to be carried out, it is good to have a plan “B” in case things turn out differently. Pausing and adjusting the plan is just as important as there are always hiccups and unexpected developments. Expecting the unexpected helps, however, in preventing crises and effectively moving on. This is what pilots do before taking off. They make sure they have enough fuel to divert to alternative airports, should they encounter a problem in reaching their destination.
Now planning can only be done properly if we know what the end result needs to look like. In other words, if we connect to the purpose of the organization we work for or a specific project. Next, we need to know what our own role is in achieving the results of the organization or the project. Now goals and objectives can be set, followed by identifying what activities need to be carried out to meet those objectives. Finally, a budget and time schedule can be set, providing the resources for what needs to be done. And while the project is now underway, it is important to consistently monitor progress, figure out where things go differently than planned and adjust the plan accordingly. With the end results in mind, chances are that they will now be reached. Meanwhile, we need to ignore the things that come our way but distract us from reaching our objectives and goals.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of the things which matter least.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.