Being proactive involves doing the important things before they need to be done. If you want to avoid the tyranny of the urgent, you must plan well into the future so you know what to expect, who you must call and when, who you must meet, where and when, and what important tasks you must perform so that they never become urgent. And all of this and more should be in your planning calendar, which you should have with you when you are at work, at home or travelling.

The planner should be in your computer bag or purse (you may need a larger purse) when you travel, on your desk when at work, and on your coffee table or wherever when you are at home. It should be your constant companion and contain your personal commitments as well as business-related commitments so there is no conflict between the two.

Your planner must tell you what to do first, when to do it, and how long you think it will take. All this is done by simply blocking off time in your planner, let us say from 9:30 AM to 11 AM, to work on your PowerPoint presentation for the staff meeting later this month. Or work every Monday from 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM on a project that could take a total of 9 hours and is due in 6 weeks.

If something is important, it should never be left on a “To do” list but scheduled directly into your planner as an “appointment with yourself” so it will get done. You always show up on time for appointments with other people because you respect their time. You must have as much respect for your own time as you have for other people’s time. Block off those appointments with yourself and keep them.

It sounds easy. We simply ignore any urgent items that are not important and continue to focus on the important items that we are currently working on. Unfortunately, it takes willpower to overcome the natural tendency to look after the urgent items first. And it is difficult to continue to focus on an important task that we are currently working on once we have been distracted by something urgent. The topic of focus is covered in detail in my e-book, Focus: how to ignore distractions and get more done, published by Bookboon. The Focus book deals with any distractions or interruptions that you may encounter, and how to develop better concentration. If you have weak concentration or attention skills, you might want to refer to that book. The book, Escaping the tyranny of the urgent, deals with the specific distractions of urgent items, and how you can prevent most of them from occurring in the first place.

One of the best tools for preventing items from becoming urgent is a planner, and one of the best techniques is to make a commitment to get something done before it becomes urgent. If something is unimportant, it is not a serious matter if it becomes urgent because it will have little, if any impact on your results if you simply ignore it. So, the first things you should schedule in your planner are the important things. Those things that will help you achieve your personal and organizational goals.

If you are suddenly confronted with an urgent task or activity, ask yourself a question – “What would the negative impact be on the company or my business-related goals if I don’t do this?” And another question to see if it would affect you personally, might be, “What negative impact would this have on my personal growth, potential, and knowledge?” And a final question might be, “What will it matter one year from now that I didn’t do this today?” If the answer to these three questions is “Nothing,” it should give you a good enough an idea of its importance, and if it is urgent, whether it is worth the disruption it might cause to do it now. You could likely do it now, with little disruption if you have built flexibility into your scheduling. But never do something just because it can be done.

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