The Urgent Comes First

We need to talk. Some of you leaders are really screwing up your priorities. Quit wasting time “planning” and “organizing” so you can tackle the urgent already! SOME SQUEAKY WHEELS NEED OIL, BADLY!

I thought this principle would be one of the most intuitive in leadership, but apparently not. I’m quite disappointed in many of you for abandoning your first love: emergencies, fires, and last-minute heroics!

Quadrant I vs. Quadrant II

I finally figured out why I hate Stephen R. Covey. I haven’t read his books, but a friend told me and Wikipedia confirmed he writes about time management and priorities and being “proactive” (I think he made up that word!). He relates the concept of a square separated into Four Quadrants representing Importance and Urgency. The left and right halves are separated into Urgent vs. Not Urgent, while the top and bottom are for Important vs. Not Important. Covey writes about ignoring Quadrant I — Urgent and Important — in order to focus on Quadrant II — Important but not Urgent. (See the picture at the link above.)

You know what, though? I can’t stand his advice. Quadrant II is a complete waste of time. Why would anyone work on things that are not urgent?! I lost track of time recently, and I nearly let a handful of airline miles expire without redeeming them for magazine subscriptions! That would have been awfully dumb of me, and I’m embarrassed to admit it.

Living in Quadrants I and III just make so much more sense. For example, a proficient leader knows to answer the phone when it rings — no matter if he’s sleeping, out to eat with friends, or standing at the urinal.

I call this philosophy Corporate Whac-A-Mole.

Problems pop up left and right, just like the popular arcade game of Whac-A-Mole, and you have to respond immediately and violently. It’s urgent you attack all of these moles right away. Plus, you might get a high score — not to mention high blood pressure!

And finally, after a day full of chasing fires and putting out emergencies, what better way to relax than to dwell in Quadrant IV with distractions like video games until three in the morning.

W. Albert Jameson, IV

On the other hand…
Yes, there are some urgent things that need attention, but we need to shift the majority of our time to Quadrant II. Here, we lead our problems instead of letting them lead us. Where Important meets Not Urgent, we will find intentionality and proactivity.