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Blog | 10.15.2014

Urgent V/s Important – The CXO’s Dilemma

“What is urgent is seldom important and what is important is seldom urgent” – Gen. Dwight D Eisenhower (Former President of the USA)

As the driving force behind an organization a CXO is responsible for putting in place long term strategies and monitoring execution. However that is not all that occupies her attention – on an average day most of the CXO’s mental bandwidth is consumed with dealing with the day-to-day problems, fire-fighting for the rest of us.

A fine Time Management book, “First Things First” (Covey, Roger & Merrill – 1994) touched upon this issue and introduced us to the concept of the “Urgent” versus the “Important” task.

  • The “Urgent” Task is something that has to be addressed within an extremely short timeframe and may or may not have any long term value. They demand your attention here and now.
  • The “Important” task has long term value and impact even though the time frame may not be short-term.

The book shows a way to organize tasks in a 2 X 2 matrix based on degrees of both urgency as well as importance. It then recommends focusing first on those that are both “Important” and “Urgent”. That being said the two do not always coincide as Gen. Eisenhower so eloquently put it.

As humans and especially at work we are conditioned to respond to the pressure of a rapidly closing time window – as you can imagine this is not the ideal situation when projected enterprise-wide. The CXO of the Mindful enterprise is concerned not only about driving employee productivity to meet short term deadlines but also about the most effective way to plan for longer term resource allocation to achieve the “big picture” goals.

Being clear about priorities is the first step here. Once the CXO decides what is most “Important” to the organization’s long term well-being it is important to plan for it – allocate the right amount of resources needed to address the task appropriately and to give it sufficient time. Enterprise Effort Analytics can play a key role in helping the CXO decide the appropriate amount of time and bandwidth the task would require. The plan should also allow for sufficient buffer for those un-announced “urgent” tasks that will inevitably drop by to eat up bandwidth. Not making that allowance will only increase the pressure on the employees working on the task – chances are in juggling the “important” and the “urgent” tasks neither will get the full attention they each deserve.

Among the most critically important distinctions the CXO will have to make is the between the effort that is being directed towards productive activities that are driving the long term goals of the organization and those that are not. Analyzing the efforts across the enterprise can show up those activities that may be in reaction to some “urgent” stimulus but are not helping move forward any specific part of the long term plan are good candidates for weeding out.

There’s a fine line each CXO has to tread daily between addressing the present and providing for the future. We would love to help but that will have to wait as there’s this fire we need to put out right away!