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While knowing very well that something needs to be done, do you ever find yourself 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. We procrastinate and say: “I will do it tomorrow or next week or when the car is repaired or when the weather gets better or … never.” Often we don’t seem to realise what our real priorities are and what should get our full attention.
Not knowing what our real priorities are is a very common reason for us to refrain from attending to less important issues. Instead we attend to all that comes our way and we are busy being busy.
Imagine for example that you are pressed to meet a deadline and complete a large order for an important client. You are called to a meeting though. Not that you had planned to attend this meeting but you have been asked to replace a colleague, who has other pressing matters to attend to, perhaps even personal. Now, you don’t really know the agenda, neither are you informed about your colleague’s position on the matters to be discussed. But you find yourself going to the meeting because meetings are very important, not so? As a result you now attend the meeting absent minded, thinking about how to complete that order for your important client. You don’t have much to contribute to the meeting and you only complete the quota required for the meeting. Should you have declined to attend? Probably. Could you have declined? Perhaps, if you had made up your mind about what was the most important thing to do. Perhaps not, if you found it difficult to disappoint your colleague, who is also a good friend..
Not setting our priorities right hinders us thus to achieve results. Needless interruptions, unimportant meetings, some phone calls, some email and other people’s problems are examples of issues that may come our way and that we need to learn to say “no” to if we want to be more effective in achieving what needs to be done. And to be able to say “no” we need to know what our priorities are.
Interestingly enough, priorities are issues that are often not very urgent. Instead we prioritise things that are seemingly urgent, no matter whether they are important or not. Telephone calls are a good example of something urgent that comes our way at any time and that we cannot resist to answer, while we don’t even know yet whether that call is more important and worth answering while attending to a very important client or meeting for example. 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, if activities are not being carried out according to plan and that happens a lot. Planning, prevention and preparation are thus the issues we need to learn to prioritise 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 hick ups and unexpected developments. Expecting the unexpected helps however in preventing crisis 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 different 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 stop attending to the things that come our way but distract us from reaching our objectives and goals.