Have you ever had a to-do list at the beginning of the day that you made no progress on by the end of the day?
If I were to ask you why nothing got accomplished, you’d probably say that other issues “suddenly came up”. Maybe it was an unexpected e-mail or an impromptu phone call, but somehow, another task arose that completely redirected your attention.
Everyone has days like that, but the problem lies in how frequently that kind of day occurs in your organization. If it happens too often, you’re spending more time “putting out fires” than completing and staying on top of your duties.
The number one culprit of this imbalance is poor time management, either by yourself or others. And to improve time management skills, you have to know the difference between an emergency and urgency.
Emergency: an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action.
Urgency: very important and needing immediate attention.
These definitions may look identical, but take a closer look. There’s a key word that determines whether a situation is an actual emergency: unforeseen.
So, are these things that “suddenly come up” a result of an unforeseen circumstance, or does your organization have people who don’t know how to manage their time (procrastinators, unorganized and forgetful employees, etc.)? These types of workers can ruin the productivity of others.
New tasks pop up all the time that will threaten to interrupt your workday, so adopt the mentality of “your urgency is not my emergency”—basically meaning that someone else’s problem due to a lack of planning does not mean you always need to spring into action to patch things up.
This shouldn’t be an excuse to not help your colleagues when you can. Just be sure that their request takes the proper place on your list of priorities—it won’t always have to trump everything else you need to get done.
Be a team player, be willing to be flexible, but don’t get too caught up in others’ “urgencies” that you lose track of what you need to do.