One of the memorable concepts in Stephen Covey’s classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is the time management matrix of Urgent and Important. Urgent items are pulling at you, and so they are hard to ignore. But tasks that are Important aren’t always shouting in your face. Sometimes they are whispering in the background – for now. Invest in the important tasks in your business now – or you will pay dearly later.
Important things that aren’t urgent
- Research and Development
- Process Improvement – Cycle Time Reduction
- Relationship Building
- Capacity Building
- Crisis Prevention
- Rest and Relaxation
Some businesses and some people live in the land of firefighting (figuratively speaking in this case). The day is full of emergencies that create stress and cost extra money. Of course there are events and circumstances that are unpredictable and unanticipated. But many of the crises can be prevented or mitigated by engaging in Not Urgent but Important activities before the crises arise.
A health care CEO said this a few years ago about developing leaders in her organization, “I know this is important, but it’s something I can get away with not doing until I can’t anymore.” She decided to take a strategic risk in an area that could create
- patient care shortfalls,
- expense overruns,
- staff turnover,
- preventable absenteeism, and
- a multitude of other implications for the operation.
(Side note: this business now has a new owner. Hmm…)
Finding the resources for the important stuff
When you see enough benefit in taking action (or risk in not doing so) you’ll find the resources. You find the time by putting aside the Not Important tasks for an hour, or a day, or two hours per week. You find the money by taking a hard look at your budget and determining what else can wait until the Important task creates its Return On Investment.
The return on your investment might be tangible and/or intangible. Some ROI can be translated into dollar terms (making it easier to do a cost/benefit analysis). But some important ROI categories cannot be as easily (or immediately) measured. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine how your investment in Important But Not Urgent might affect your business:
- What is the potential impact on my customers and market position? (client retention, new markets, etc.)
- What is the financial impact to the business? (sales, costs, profits, etc.)
- What would be the impact on my ability to manage? (fewer hours, fewer hassles, fewer crises)
- How would this affect our ability to grow and innovate? (time, $ and knowhow for getting better)
You will pay one way or another. Would you rather make a known investment now that can add value to your business, or would you prefer to pay an unplanned, unknown, uncontrolled expense down the road?