What’s Important And What’s Not
Prioritizing your life in today’s fast paced world is more important than ever before. Before you learn to lead others, you have to learn to lead yourself by prioritizing the tasks in your life.
In a society where you are thrown all kinds of obligations, it’s hard for us to make time for the most important things in life. We spend much of our life on fulfilling our many obligations, chiefly being the financial commitments like the mortgage and car loan.
With so much pressure on our time, we tend to react to what happens to us rather than proactively make things happen to the world.
However, if you aspire to be a leader of men, you need to become an agent of change, and not stay as a product of change. You need to effect change on others rather than allowing someone else to effect change in you.
To do so, you need to prioritize your life actively.
Before you prioritize your life, it is important to have a vision for it. It is important to know where you are headed so that you can distinguish which activities are simply distractions and which activities are moving you toward the vision.
Without a vision, prioritizing makes no sense. All activities are permissible when you are not trying to pursue anything in life.
So before you learn about prioritizing, read up a little about having vision in life. Alternatively, you can purchase my book Everyday Leadership where I spend time discussing the benefits of a vision and how you can cultivate vision in your life.
Let’s look at the Urgency and Importance Matrix:
The Urgency and Importance Matrix
To understand prioritization, I will use Stephen Covey’s Urgency and Importance Matrix. In his best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey divided all activities we do on a daily basis down to four categories:
Urgent and Important
These represent tasks that are pressing and require your immediate attention. This kind of activities seldom does happen unless you do not plan or prepare. However, sometimes unexpected circumstances do occur, requiring you to drop your tasks in order to fulfil this category of activities. However, if you spend most of your time in this box, you’ll find your life to be extremely stressful, and you may even experience burnouts.
Urgent and not important
These represent the clutter in your life. This is the email you are reading that has little or no consequence in your future. This is the meeting you have to attend despite it having no relation to your job scope. However, they require your immediate attention due to your obligations. If the large part of your life is in this box, you’ll find yourself out of control; constantly being led around instead of actively leading your life.
Not urgent and not important
This is a box in which you should not even be in. If you find yourself spending most of your time in this box, you should consider either changing your job scope or changing your job entirely. It is obvious that what you are doing now is not engaging you, and hence, you are searching for other forms of entertainment or stimulation. The first step to leading your life if you spend most of your time here is to change your behavior.
Not urgent but important
These are the activities you need to spend your most productive time on. Spend time with the right people who can move you forward; spend time planning and strategizing plans for your future, and then plan activities that move you toward your future. If you spend most of your time in this box, congratulations! You are a leader of your own time and often by extension, likely a leader of others as well.
Of course, it is unrealistic to expect to spend 100% of your time in the “Not urgent but important” category. Prioritizing your life is about getting the right mix of these activities. While you want to focus on the not urgent but important section the most, you will also be flexible and ready to tackle the tasks in the other categories as well.
Learn to Say “No!”
Many times, we have a problem saying no to requests made of us. This can be partly due to the fact we lack vision and therefore allow anyone to make a demand on our time, or it could also be due to the fact we do not dare to reject people.
Either way, by not saying no when necessary, we obligate ourselves to far more things than we’re comfortable. But let me offer you this perspective:
Saying ‘Yes’ to something means saying ‘No’ to something else.
Saying yes to your weekend spent with the family may mean saying no to watching a football game. Saying yes to this job means saying no to all other job offers. Saying yes to one task means saying no to others. Saying yes to a vision means saying no to all other visions!
The next time you feel too guilty or obligated to say no to a request, ask yourself; what have I already said yes to? Think about the commitments you have already made: to your family, to your employer, to your church and so on. Remember those commitments, and it will be easier for you to gently but firmly reject the request.
Remember this: By designing your priorities, you design your destiny. When you are the one who decides who and what will occupy your time, you are the one who is in full control of your life. So don’t stay a victim of your circumstance anymore, start prioritizing your life and become a leader!