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?”

Close the #$@*% Cabinet – Richard’s Take

Basically I think I’m pretty darn close to perfect (although I can’t seem to get anyone to agree with me on this – especially not Amanda). However, even I will admit that I can’t seem to close the cabinet doors in the kitchen. Putting down the toilet seat – no problem. But closing kitchen cabinets seems to be a skill that I missed somewhere along the road. And boy does that tick off my wife!

It’s often not the big stuff that really gets Amanda really angry with me.  I’d put cabinet door closing in the “not really too big” category.

Believe it or not, this topic actually came up for discussion at one of our 48 Hour Relationship Retreats a few years back. I remember the conversation because we were relaxed and we started having fun with the topic. We both tried to “analyze” my childhood to see what traumatic event had happened to put a mental block on cabinet door closing. We also “analyzed” why Amanda had such a visceral reaction that bordered on filing for immediate divorce every time she saw a cabinet door open.

While we haven’t yet solved our particular psychoses, we have moved on – for the most part.

So, in a fit of introspection, I’m taking a couple of minutes tonight with a Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat beer to reflect on what I learned. Here’s what I got – do with it as you wish:

  1. Inject laughter. It’s hard to be ticked off while laughing
  2. Put the problem out there for BOTH of you to work on together. When Amanda and I both find ourselves working together against a common goal (in this case the great cabinet kerfluffle) it’s easier for us to find solutions than working on one another’s faults. “We vs. it” is easier than “you vs. me.”
  3. It’s often better for us to bring up these issues while relaxed and to bring the issue up in a non-threatening, sharing manner. I’d recommend only having these discussions with a tropical drink in one’s hand while on the beach in Hawaii but that might not be too practical.
  4. It’s important to talk about how the situation affects you – rather than pointing blame at the other person. It was easier for me to chat about the problem of the cabinets when it didn’t start out as a pointed attack on me like “you’re so lazy because . . . “
  5. If Amanda and I come into a discussion with a genuine desire to work on the problem, it’s usually quite easy for the two of us to work out a compromise.

Of course, it’s easier said that done in most cases. When the cabinet doors have been left open for the 345th time that day, it’s hard for Amanda to just “put it aside” for a better time. Yelling does sometimes seem like a better option!

Well, I’m done with my beer so I’ll stop here. I’m sure there are probably more things we learned from the incredible toll that the cabinet door positioning puts on our marriage, but I got nothing else right now.

(BTW, we are still looking for that incredibly poignant/interesting/amusing way to finish all of our blog posts, so feel free to send us your suggestions.)

Why 48 Hours?

We’ve all heard the phrase “let me sleep on it” and haven’t we all said “I’ll get back to you on that”. Well in thinking about big life decisions and activities in my life, I have decided that fortunes can change significantly in 48 hours – just 2 days.

Think about it – a weekend in Vegas can result in a trip to jail or holy matrimony – either way your life future has been changed.

Or when you have been offered a new job or business opportunity you take a few days to think it over because you know the decision is going to affect your career path well into the future.

And how about that fight you had with your best friend. That after you have a few days to think it over it doesn’t seem nearly as bad as it did at the time.

The reality is that much can be accomplished in 48 hours.

Richard’s Not So Sure about this Blog Thing

Ok, I’ll admit it right up front. While I do have a big ego, I don’t consider myself to be an expert on relationship topics. All my life I’ve actually referred to myself as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” That would apply to relationships too.

So, we’re launching a book and a web site which obviously means we need to have a blog, right? But are the random pontifications of Amanda and me really worthy of others spending precious time to read? I’ll admit I’m a bit squeamish about it.

So, to ease my own insecurities, here are my ground rules / guiding principles for this blog that at least I am going to follow. (Amanda doesn’t really like to follow rules so much of this may or may not apply to her blog posts!)

  1. I’ll try to limit any advice I’m handing out to things we’ve learned during our 17 years of 48 hour retreats or things I’ve learned in leading/managing people for the past 25 years in business.
  2. Even if there isn’t a disclaimer in each blog, I’m going to operate from the perspective that I’m just providing some musings, thoughts, learnings, etc. but I am NOT passing myself off as some sort of smug relationship guru. That blanket disclaimer has now been issued – you have been warned!
  3. You are totally welcome to disagree with stuff we write – see #2 above. Just remember that you were warned and if some introspective pondering was generated, I’ll be happy.
  4. I’ll try to keep my musings focused on the issues surrounding the retreat and the implementation of goals, plans, etc. in the months that follow a retreat.

I’m not sure if you feel any better but I feel that a huge weight is off my shoulders. I’m not Dr. Phil. I’ve clearly warned you that I’m not Dr. Phil. And, I’ve given myself some direction for providing blog posts in the future.

Disclaimer complete.

Mission accomplished.

Blog finished.

I’m off to bed.

The Next 48 Hours


(That seems to be a weak way to start this off but we’ve got nothing else right now!)

This blog grew out of the collective beliefs of Amanda & Richard and our experiences gained in 17 years of annual relationship retreats. Plus, working on our own relationship every other day of the year since we met way back in 1994 has contributed to our ideas here.

We believe that each individual is capable of effecting change in their lives if they just have a plan and execute their plan. With two people working together, that change can be (as our son likes to say) epic! And generally all it takes to get started on the right path is 48 hours. Just two days.

And it is simply amazing (though not coincidental in the least) that this blog concept supports the subject of a book that we have written that will be out on the market soon. Our book is about a 48 hour relationship retreat where couples delve into all the aspects of their lives and make plans for success together.

So in addition to random posts about topics that occur to us, we may post about topics in the book and tangent subjects that come up as we finish the book.  Basically, this is all about relationships between two people who are committed to each other. But, we reserve the right to wander off topic occasionally if something strikes our fancy. You’ll just have to deal with it.

The Blog Cocktail Ingredients:

  • 2 parts kick in the pants to make personal change
  • 3 parts helpful advice on how to make those changes
  • Splash of humor
  • 2 dashes of irreverence
  • 1 jigger of sarcasm

Time to wrap this blog post up – all the “experts” suggest that people have the attention span of a gnat these days and long posts will never get read.

So, we hope you’ll drop by again soon.

Maybe we need a “catch phrase” to end all our posts? Let us know if you come up with one!