It’s 9.55 and I’m just settling down in my hotel room to watch The Inbetweeners which is on TV at 10, when my mobile phone rings. It’s my wife, who I haven’t seen for three days since I’ve been travelling and doing training courses around the country. I say to her “Can I phone you back at 10.30, The Inbetweeners is on in a minute?” and she’s upset, saying “Oh I see, The Inbetweeners is more important than me is it??”
Should I talk to her instead of watching TV?
Should I rush the phone call and try it get it finished by ten, without telling her about the TV?
The point is that while she is clearly more important than the latest episode of The Inbetweeners, she is not as urgent. It makes no difference (probably) to her whether we talk at 10 or 10.30, whereas The Inbetweeners cannot wait. They ARE urgent.
So if I can watch them now and talk with her afterwards for an unlimited time, I can have my cake and eat it. Time Management!
The problem is that she is confusing urgent for important and inferring that I think the TV is more important that she is. This is certainly not the case, and if I could only do one of the two I would talk to her (I think!!); if I only had a week to live I’d spend it with her; and all those other tests for importance like Which one do I value more, Which one would I miss if I could never do it again, etc.
I expect that some people reading this will still, even after reading all that, be thinking “I can’t believe he made his wife wait till after The Inbetweeners was finished”. Well, that means you still don’t get it! She is important but not urgent, they are not important but they are urgent. This distinction is simple, but not easy, and emotionally we get the two tangled up. But then that leads to doing things like rushing the important phone call to my wife, and still missing the first half of the inbetweeners, which is a double failure.
At work it’s the same – you have to get the urgent things out of the way, often with no flexibility of when, and yet still fit in the important things, maybe by scheduling them in, and making sure you spend plenty of time on them. Sometimes important things will get postponed because of something trivial but urgent, but these important things still need to be done at some point, with plenty of time allocated to them, because they are the things that really matter. Never start thinking that the urgent things are important.