Avoiding the Tyranny of the Immediate

Shawnee Love   •  
October 20, 2017

Managers are often distracted by things that are unimportant but burning in their faces.

I recently heard this described as the “Tyranny of the Immediate” and it simply fits.

The burning fire, even if small, seems to get our attention. The ping of the email, the ring of the phone, the buzz of the text, the knock on the door, the request of a direct report, and so on become a higher priority than the important items which have a longer timeline.

Complicating matters in my opinion are two “best practices”.

The first from time management theory which advises acolytes to answer those emails and get to tasks immediately if they take less than a minute or two to get them off your desk.  However, if you are someone who has a seemingly endless supply of “quick” question’s and “got a sec?” inquiries (which most of us can relate to), then you risk never getting to the more important work.

Second is the “open door culture” which promises to always be available for an employee with a question or concern.  Again, well intentioned, but I have seen how this approach can fail a manager.  I had one client who was committed to the open door.  Staff became so used to going to her for anything and everything, it meant we couldn’t sit for 10 minutes without having someone knock on the closed door to have an item signed, ask for her advice, seek approval or simply say hi.

I am not arguing against open door policies or dealing with items when they arise.  I am simply advocating for a balanced approach and commitment to the bigger picture.  By this I mean that your decision making regarding what to do next must also ensure long term, strategic and critical projects get done on time and budget.  One way to move forward is to ensure your priorities are set based on importance and urgency.  It is also helpful to break long term projects into smaller project milestones and tasks.  This strategy works because there are often short term tasks (such as order a part, or book a venue) which absolutely must be accomplished if there is any hope of successfully accomplishing the overall goal.  Ensuring the critical bottlenecks are taken care of can keep the project on side even if you have to delay less critical tasks for the urgent.  Knowing that interim milestones are urgent and important can help escalate their priorities in the queue.

Other hacks include:Make time for what matters Typewriter

  • Daily priority lists (taken from a weekly project list),
  • A consistent schedule for essential but less important things like responding to email and calls, open door access, and project time (set expectations for when you will respond and people will come to accept it),
  • Time sheets (so you know where you are spending your time because once you know how you use it, you can better manage it),
  • Turning off the pings, buzzes and pop ups on email, phone, and texts so you aren’t wondering what just arrived,

With 24/7 information, an expectation to constantly be on, and a never ending supply of tasks and questions that are all rated urgent by the people who initiated them, it’s no surprise that we can get buried in details and never get to the big picture, strategic initiatives which actually move our businesses forward.

Hopefully these tips will help you get above the noise.  If you have any other tips to share, please comment below.