Separating the Urgent from the Important

Sorry I left you hanging on that cliff for so long, but brilliance can’t be rushed.

For those of you eagerly awaiting this blog which is part two of the Pulitzer-winning blog entitled: “I want more hours in my day!” your wait is over. When we last checked in with our hero, he just identified the fact that prioritization is the key to successful time management. “But, BAM, KAPOW, ZOWIE” you say, “how do I do that?”

Thank goodness you came to the right place! I have an amazingly original and brilliant answer to this question (as well as answers to many more of life’s difficult challenges – someone should notify the President – he’s really missing out on a major resource).

These solutions have come from the 17 years of retreats that we have done as well as my 25 years in business management.

Face it. We all wish we could spend more time on key goals but so much is happening around us that even though we start with good intentions, we often get distracted (kinda like how I INTEND to eat well, but then I get distracted by the pan of brownies cooling on the counter). We know that we need to address the “urgent” tasks first, but the problem is that everything seems to be “urgent.”

By urgent, I’m not just referring to emergencies. I mean text messages that need a quick response or the phone ringing that needs to be picked up or someone interrupting you at work with a question to be answered. Especially in our increasingly digital world, we feel like everything is urgent and needs our immediate response – even that silly text message while we’re driving.

joker 2If urgent were a movie character it would be The Joker trying to wrestle control from Batman (btw – you are Batman in this analogy and The Joker is all the people/things that are so “urgent” but are really just a joke – ha, ha).

So the answer lies in determining what is most important to you. What do you believe in? In 5 or 10 years, what do you want to know you gave the most attention to? Do you really want your kids, spouse, faith, health, etc. to be the most important things in your life? Then you need to act like it! When you’re clear about what your top priorities are, it becomes a matter of holding yourself to that standard.

One way to take back control of your life is to critically analyze what is merely urgent and what is truly important. Even if you’re swamped, taking a few minutes to think about this will actually free up time for you.

If you’re out of the office at an important meeting, do you answer your e-mail during that meeting? Probably not. And the world doesn’t end, does it? That e-mail probably wasn’t nearly as urgent as you might have thought. Another way to look at it is to remember that other people don’t know what you’re doing every hour of every day. When your phone pings and you realize you have a text message waiting, your pavlovian response might be chirping in your head urging you to grab that phone (despite the fact that you are sitting across the table from your mother and you know that she HATES when people text while in a conversation). Instead that person can wait for your response – because as far as they know you could be taking a nap, in the shower, or maybe even having lunch with your mother! And if you were doing any of those things your response would have to wait. So putting off your response for your own convenience should be acceptable as well.

And to apply this to your relationship: going out on a date night once a month with your partner might not be urgent. However continually postponing your date because you’re doing things that other people have convinced you are urgent is a problem. You are letting someone else’s list of priorities overrule yours.

Another strategy: schedule your most important things into your day and let the other stuff fill in the gaps. Trust me, if you don’t get to some of those “other things” they probably weren’t that important!

If spending time with your wife is important (before you get to divorce court that is) then schedule that in. If you believe that spending time with your kids is crucial (before they’re out of your house just like in that “Cats in the Cradle” song) then make the time now. If you don’t want to be sick all the time as you get older (and you probably don’t) then work on your health starting today.

Finally, if others are trying to control your calendar and eat up all your time, then give them a deadline. Tell them when you will respond (i.e., I have some things on my calendar this morning – I’ll get back to you by 8 tonight). This will put you at ease and will also keep others from badgering you.

Scrap the Crap Tip: Be proactive. Determine what’s most important and what’s merely urgent. Make a list – on paper – and keep that list with you and review it often. Then make a commitment to get the important done. Accomplish your priorities first, then work on everyone else’s urgent items.

I Want More Hours in My Day!


This past Wednesday was crazy and these days it seems like every day is similar. Up early for boot camp. Off to work. Race to my daughter’s swim meet where I’m timing. Then its home to pack for the next day, chat with the kids, play with the dog, and pack for a Boy Scout Leadership campout.

If most every day is like this, plus weekends filled with baseball games, soccer games, church, etc., when in the heck am I supposed to find time to work on my big life goals?

It seems like most everyone, I find myself asking, “How do I get more done?”

Fear not! I found the solution!

The answer lies in the time-turner necklace that Hermione used in Harry Potter and the Prisonr of Azkaban. She deftly utilized this necklace to take a double class load – to technically be in two places at once. It works great.


What?!? You don’t have a time-turner necklace?

Hmmmm. Then I guess we all need to go at this another way.

During the course of working on our book, we realized that while The 48 Hour Relationship Retreat might be a handbook about a couple’s retreat, the underlying theme is really all about being proactive. Working together to figure out what’s most important and then making those things a priority in your life. Basically, taking control of your life instead of letting it control you.

When it comes to the problem of getting more done, the only solution is prioritizing. We can’t get more hours in our day (I’ve tried, but seems that making a larger sun dial does NOT actually slow the rate at which time advances). The key is to get more of our top priorities done during the hours we do have.

If spending time with Amanda is my top priority (and she informs me that it should be), I need to put it into my schedule and work the rest of my day around that. Time management experts all preach the same basic mantra – determine what is most important (not what is most urgent) and then schedule those items. Let the lower priorities fill in around them.

All time management books stress that it’s crucial to be deliberate. Setting our goals and hoping that the top priorities get done is not enough. We need to take a moment to put those key items into our day ahead of time. And then stick to them like we would a doctor’s appointment.

In fact, my recent doctor’s appointment is a great example. Somehow, when I need to go to the doctor so I can get my medication refilled, I find a way to fit that into my schedule and work our other responsibilities around that. If one of your highest goals is spending more time with your kids or date night or exercise, treat that like a doctor’s appointment. Schedule it, don’t miss it, and the world won’t end.

I might not have a time-turner necklace like Hermione, but what I do have is a daily to do list that I create each day before I leave work. I write down all the things I want to accomplish the next day (it includes the things I want to do and the things other people want me to do). And then I prioritize them. I put “A”s next to the things I absolutely need to get done in the day, and then “B”s and then “C”s for the things that it would be good to get to, but they are at the bottom of my list. Then the next day I tackle the A’s first, and I treat the time on my calendar that I have set aside for those items as sacred…if someone tries to grab that time I get very protective and think twice before impinging upon it.

And yes, before you ask I do the same thing for my weekends. We determine what things we want to get done around the house, or with the kids, or which friends we want to see. And we put them on our to do list. And then the other stuff fills in around that. Does it mean some sacrifice (like I might not watch all of the Nats game, but rather catch just an inning or two)? Yes, it does. But I can stomach that sacrifice when I see the results of pursuing my priorities instead of the stuff that just gets thrown at me.

Scrap the Crap Tip: Stop lamenting your lack of time. Decide what is most important, get that into your schedule, protect that time, and let the rest fill in where it will.

Cliffhanger: Tune in to my next scintillating blog when I will to try to tackle the burning question: “How do I determine what’s most important?”

Be My Guest – and Can You Fix my Transmission While You’re Here? (Amanda’s Take)

My in-laws are coming this week. They are coming to help run the house while I will be away on business travel. Awww…that is very nice you might say. While I am saying “OH MY GOD!” Not because it isn’t nice (it is very nice of them…but don’t give them too much credit – they are totally psyched about getting their time in with the grandkids). But the mere thought of having them in my house for a week without me here strikes panic into my heart. Why?!? You don’t really need to ask if you are a wife and your in-laws are coming for a week. But for the men reading this or for those of you who live next door to your in-laws and have already adjusted, let me explain the inner workings of my neurosis.

You see, if my in-laws come while I am away they are likely to see what my house REALLY looks like. They are likely to uncover the secrets hidden away behind the closed doors that even those in my “village” don’t get to see. Like the fact that I still have presents from my cub scout banquet in February hanging out in my office, or I have twenty pairs of summer shoes sitting on my spare bed waiting to be transitioned into my closet, or the fact that my pantry looks like it has been ransacked by the Pittsburg Steelers defensive line!

I spend a considerable amount of time crafting the image of a put-together business owner/mother/friend/sister/wife/coach/whatever-I-need-to-be-today. And all of that might be undone in one 7-day visit when they realize that I am really not put-together at all. That it is all an illusion. And when they find out that it is an illusion, they will most certainly JUDGE ME! And that, of course, would be the worst part of it all.

Then I realized that perhaps there was another way to look at this. I mean I don’t keep a pin-perfect house for a reason. Because it is a choice that I make (because trust me, my mother certainly taught me how to be neat and tidy). It is a very proactive choice that I make to focus on other things in my life instead of spending time making sure every nook & cranny is squeaky clean. To coach my daughter’s soccer team instead of cleaning out the guest room closet. Or to write a book rather than make sure everything in my office is in its place.

So what if my mother-in-law comes and finds that there are some shirts that need buttons sewn on. You know what she’ll probably do? She’ll sew them on! And so what if my father-in-law notices the banister than has been loose for the last 6 months. If he is bothered by it he’ll probably repair it (thank God – because it has been driving me nuts for the last 6 months).

And I have a very conscious choice on how I can react to any acts of kindness that they may commit while they are here. I can either take it as a judgment – a feeling that they think I am not doing a good enough job for their son and/or grandchildren. Or I can embrace their giving ways and be glad that someone is doing the things that I can’t get to.

My decision is already made. I have plenty of room in my life for anyone who wants to help out. Please – feel free (I can even send you a sign-up genius request if you’d like). Step right up and clean off a counter, stuff a dishwasher, or take a kid to practice. I won’t mind. I won’t feel judged. I might even reward you with a tasty margarita when you’re done. I can use all the help I can get because I am spending a lot of my time carefully crafting the image of a put-together business owner/mother/friend/sister/wife/coach/whatever-I-need-to-be-today.

And that makes me really tired.

Disclaimer: My in-laws are truly salt-of-the-earth people who are not at all judgmental. All of the neurosis portrayed in this blog can be 100% attributed to the author. Just ask Richard – he will tell you.

And here is an aside. I am going to try to finish my blogs with a little take-away. A little something that you might apply to your life. Pretty much the moral of the story (so you don’t have to work that hard to figure it out.) If you like it great, if you don’t, well as I was told as a child, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then no one really wanted to listen to you anyway.” I am going to call them my “Scrap the Crap Tips”. It works today – who knows if it will work for every blog…guess we’ll all find out together.

Scrap the Crap Tip: Identify your own priorities, and then don’t feel bad about skipping the stuff that just doesn’t make your list. When others step in to fill in the gaps, don’t spend time worrying about WHY someone did something nice, just accept that they did it, and thank them for their kindness and for their help in your life.