Can You Beat the Tyranny of the Urgent?

We all face the Tyranny of the Urgent, but as a business owner, if you can’t find a way to beat it then you’re going to end up in a bad situation, unable to grow, exhausted and ultimately killing your business.

What is the Tyranny of the Urgent? It’s a concept that minister / author Charles Hummel wrote about back in the 1960’s. It’s simply the idea that we all face an ongoing tension between the Urgent (things that demand to be addressed now) versus the Important (things that would make a positive strategic or long term impact and make things better).

The problem is that the Urgent can often be the path of least resistance, a bit addictive and oddly satisfying to deal with.

Imagine that your day starts out with the phone ringing, followed up by dealing with a customer complaint, an employee who needs to vent and running out to pick up supplies that the team forgot to get last week…

It’s been a busy morning and the time flew by. No one can fault your work effort. You were a hero out there this morning, swooping in to rescue all sorts of situations.

But in the grand scheme of things, you didn’t really get anything important done. You didn’t improve any processes, create better products or marketing, you didn’t train someone on the team to take over an important task from you… you just did a lot of urgent (but not necessarily important) work.

When the Tyranny of the Urgent is too much…

I talked with a business owner recently who can’t go in to her office at work if she needs to get important things done (and with the kids at home these days, that doesn’t work very well either). Whenever she steps into her business space, she is immediately hit up with fires, problems, customers, etc. that demand her immediate attention. Before she knows it, another day has passed without any time or effort towards actually improving her business.

At this point, she doesn’t own her business, her business owns her.

There are going to be days when the Urgent can’t be denied. Things will go wrong, people will be out sick unexpectedly, pandemics will happen…! On those days, you don’t have a choice, you’ll have to give in to the Tyranny of the Urgent.

But that can’t be every day… it can’t even be most days. If you really want to get ahead you must find a way to make those crazy Urgent days the exception and not the rule.

How do you fight the Tyranny?

The good news is that the Tyranny can be successfully fought. It’s a never-ending battle, but with the right focus and mindset you can get it well under control.

Start by recognizing the problem…

It’s cliché, but the first step in solving a problem like this is admitting that you have one. One of the trickiest symptoms of this challenge is that you will feel like you’re doing a lot of great work. You’re solving problems, putting out fires, making things work. You’re being the hero. It can feel good.. for a while.

But you have to recognize that this month looks a lot like last month… and if you’re being honest with yourself, it’s likely you’re going to be putting out the same (or at least very similar) fires next month.

Once you change your perspective and recognize that you are enabling reactive behaviors instead of focusing on proactive behaviors you can start finding ways to truly fix things.

Get clear on what you really want….

The other thing you need to get a handle on is what you really want in the longer term – for your business and for your life.

This can be kind of an overwhelming idea but for starters you can keep it simple. Most people would like to have more time, work less and if possible, make more money.

The good news is that as a business owner, that’s completely possible – but only if you build your business in a way that makes it happen. It requires you, as the business owner, to spend a big chunk of your time working ON your business (building a business) rather than IN your business.

Start prioritizing and scheduling your time…

One way to start being more proactive is to block out time for yourself. Time to think, time to work on longer term projects, time to meet with key advisors who will challenge and help you, or time to learn and make yourself better.

But you have to actually carve out the time and make it happen.

Start saying ‘No’ a lot more…

Another way to free up your time is to simplify things by finding things you can say ‘No’ to. That can mean letting someone else do it (even if they aren’t quite as good as you are), finding a way to automate or outsource it, or just not doing it.

Commit to keep getting better…

Unfortunately this isn’t a battle that you fight once and it’s done. This is an ongoing challenge and the only way to meet it is to constantly be working to get better. You have to keep learning new ideas and about yourself.

You have to figure out what works and change and improve what doesn’t and then be prepared to keep doing that.

It’s a journey, not a destination.

Imagine beating the Tyranny of the Urgent

Picture this; it’s the start of your week, so you take a few hours in the morning to get clear on what you want to get done this week.

Maybe you meet a friend for lunch, or you have lunch with a potential strategic partner to talk about a big idea you’ve had brewing for a while.

Then you have a few quick, productive meetings with your key leads in the business. These are planned, ongoing meetings you have every week to make sure everyone is focused, has what they need and are happily productive.

And to wrap up the day, you head out early to take your son to his baseball practice, enjoying the great weather and a chance to relax with some of the other parents. You feel good about your business because you know the important things are getting done (generally by someone else) and that you have it under control.

Sound like a fantasy? It might be a stretch and it’s certainly not an easy thing to create, but most business owners could create a version of this – if they’re willing to defeat the Tyranny of the Urgent.

What do you think? If it’s a dream, is it a dream worth chasing? We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

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