First Identify Your Goals, But Then Make Sure You Give Them the Attention They Deserve

With the recent reading recommendations of the Emerging Leaders Academy experienced public servants panel, I’ve been re-reading Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m listening to it this time, actually, on cd during my drive time and it seems particularly meaningful to hear the guidance in Covey’s own voice.

I’ve just gotten to habit 3, put first things first, where he discusses the value of planning your time so that you’re spending much of your energy in “quadrant 2” (see graphic below), on the things that are important but not necessarily urgent.

They are the things that are most likely to get sidelined when we operate in a more reactive mode, organizing our time around oiling the squeakiest wheels rather than around our principles.

This reminded me of the terrific opening of a post on the Be Awesome Online blog from last week. Catherine Caine writes:

“Do you know, dearest, why to-do lists, vision boards and affirmation notes on your mirror work?

“It’s because of attention. We direct our attention to the things in our field of vision. If we don’t give ourselves conscious reminders then we default to whatever’s around: our inbox, the thousand-fold distractions of social media, the furniture… nothing meaningful, nothing long-term, nothing great.

I’ve deliberately added more reminders to myself as the study has become my work-centre. I have Charlie Gilkey‘s famous line Do Epic Sh** on a sign on the study door. I have artwork I bought because it reminds me of how I want to rock the world. And I’ll be daring the Wrath of the Real Estate Agent to put up some work on the wall behind my monitor. All of these small changes have helped, a lot.”

What Catherine Caine and Stephen Covey both want to remind us of is that we can all be pretty willing to be distracted from the Important Stuff when it can be hard and even scary to dive into it. But by scheduling our time around it, putting reminders in our field of vision, blocking out the “urgent” distractions (that generally aren’t quite so urgent), we can dip our toes into working on the Important Stuff and start to feel some of the satisfaction that comes from doing what matters.

For me, this has meant actually turning off my email for a couple hours at a time over the last week in order to get some writing done on my dissertation. It’s just too easy to attend to the urgent otherwise. And you know what the best part is? It’s working.

What do you do to make sure you’re spending some time on the important-but-not-urgent?