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Giving Up to Gain

By Lisa Curran Parenteau, BA, LMT

Pause and Reboot Often, being reminded of something that we inherently know assists us in re-examining some of our current habits and helps us consider what may not work well for us anymore. I read a post recently entitled '5 things you should give up in 2012'. In the post the author, Dorie Clark, eschewed some practical, albeit pretty basic, suggestions for exposing some of what I like to call 'time sucks' in your daily life. One of the five suggestions to give up in 2012 was to stop responding like a trained monkey. By this, the author is reminding us that often, most of what we spend our time on, could really wait 90 minutes or even longer, or maybe not even really require our attention at all. Further, if we intentionally remove some of these time sucks, we will free up space in our minds and lives for tasks or activities we are jazzed about.

Now, while I'm working through my daily to-do list, I keep conjuring up the image of responding like a trained monkey. But I know that in order to change behavior we have to break down what we're currently doing. So I started thinking about what David Allen calls the three-fold nature of work. There is the regular predefined work of the day, the work that 'comes up' and then the work that we determine, define or process as we go through our day. I believe that establishing a process for capturing, clarifying, systematizing and reviewing tasks is crucial to feeling successful and for increasing self-esteem. Who doesn't love that!

The topic of what is urgent and what is important is a really great one to ponder in this context. When I work with clients, I like to address the significance of creating and personalizing this process. Here is the big rub though: How often do we busy ourselves with Urgent and never get to Important? Here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Are you ever afraid that you are not paying enough attention to the really important things?
  2. Do you feel like you are just putting out fires all day long?
  3. Are things falling through the cracks?
  4. Are your day-to-day activities really aligned with your larger professional or personal goals?

Do any of these sounding familiar? If so, may I introduce you to the Urgent/Important matrix? This useful theory states that all activities belong in one of four categories:

  • Important/Urgent
  • Important/Not Urgent
  • Urgent/Not Important
  • Not Urgent /Not Important

The idea of measuring and combining two competing elements in a matrix has been attributed to both former US President Eisenhower and Dr. Stephen Covey.

Eisenhower's quote, "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important," sums up the concept of the matrix perfectly. This so-called "Eisenhower Principle" is said to be how Eisenhower organized his tasks. As a result, the matrix is sometimes called the Eisenhower Matrix. Covey brought the idea into the mainstream and gave it the name "The Urgent/Important Matrix" in his 1994 business classic, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People".

I find that, if left to my own devices, Urgent really rules my life. How many things are pulling us each day, emails that send us in 100 directions, co-workers and their drama, phone calls? Oh, and did someone mention Facebook or LinkedIn? Think about all the seemingly urgent tasks that arise during your business day. Are any of those tasks really moving you towards your exciting professional goals? How important are they, really? Are they simply putting out some Unimportant/Urgent fires or providing a temporary, albeit engaging distraction? Or, worse yet, are the activities associated with the achievement of someone else's goals?

In my consulting work, I know the sparkling gem in the Urgent/Important matrix is the invitation to really clarify, one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, what is truly, enthusiastically and passionately, important to your personal or professional goals and to intentionally keep your focus there.

Visualizing and employing this matrix gives you an added tool you can use to capture, clarify, systematize and review your tasks. I am not promoting spending a bunch of time categorizing your activities on a daily basis! What I am advocating is to really give yourself the gift of daily/weekly/monthly intentional scrutiny about your tasks and to consider what is Important to accomplish within your allotted time and stay focused on that.

I abhor New Year's resolutions, but, for 2012, I commit to "giving up to gain" and getting better at keeping Important in my foreground. I know that if I continue with Urgent, I will probably miss a bunch of Important. For me and for all of my clients, that isn't acceptable because we have a lot of Important to do! In 2012, I invite you to put Urgent in its place and make more time for Important. That is where you and I derive our sense of well-being and where we can confidently make our unique contributions to the world. Keeping Important in the forefront will bring out your joie de vivre and allow you to really stand in your purpose with enthusiasm.

Namaste and Happy New Year!

About the Author:
Lisa Curran Parenteau, BA, LMT, Marketing Consultant, Director of Marketing and Business Development for the Center for Compassionate Touch LLC, Massage Therapy Foundation Community Service Review Committee and Marketing Work Group Member. lisaparenteau@gmail.com.

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