In my work with leading speakers, authors and thought leaders I’m often amazed at how easily these incredibly bright people get distracted or sidetracked. Given that the scarcest resource for most folks today is time you’d think they would be better at mastering it. We all know what our priorities are, what projects need our attention and where we need to focus on accomplishing our objective and meeting our obligations to ourselves and to others.
In today’s always-wired, always on, 24/7 access world it’s easy to confuse something that is instant with those things that are truly urgent. A text, an email, an instant message can often pull us from what is most critical to something that’s gotten our attention solely because of the medium and method it was transmitted to us. A beep, a ping, a vibration accompany the message thereby creating a sense of importance far beyond whatever we may have been working on at the moment.
It wasn’t all that long ago (fifteen years or so) when urgent was something that was printed on a FedEx envelope and someone paid a good sum of money to get to us first thing in the morning. If it was worth the twenty bucks for someone to send it then probably was more important than something they could have simply mailed to us for a small fraction of the cost.
An urgent FedEx now almost seems quaint. After all, if I need to reach you today I have several ways to do so. Almost all of them instant and free (or at least almost free) and we can launch them all simultaneously. However, I’d urge you to not confuse instant with urgent. Urgent is the deadline you committed to hitting. Instant is a colleague texting you with a request for something that is not time sensitive. Instant is an email. Urgent is the fast approaching deadline that your editor is holding you to.
The cost of confusing these two ranges from cognitive to emotional, to financial.
Our brains are not wired to bounce from task to task to task. Concentration yields higher quality thinking and problem-solving. Stress levels increase when we are constantly pulled in various directions. We don’t want to disappoint our friends and clients yet we can’t be always on. Financially we typically get paid when we complete something not when we start something else.
You have more control than you think over the tools that (if properly managed) can increase your productivity. You can adjust settings so that you are not constantly bombarded by buzzes and pings. You can deploy a wide range of email management and information management strategies. Harness the power of these technologies to your benefit, not your detriment. That being said I think the easiest way to avoid confusing instant with urgent is to pause briefly before responding to any interruption via any medium and simply ask yourself if it is urgent or is it simply something that has been communicated instantly.