The Death of ASAP
The Difference Between Important And Urgent
What are you working on right now?
An email to your boss? A presentation for a client? Sharing something on Facebook with a friend?
Whatever it is, stop and ask yourself one question:
Is it important?
It may seem like it is. In fact, your boss may have told you it is. They may have even said, “I need this ASAP.”
This acronym has became bastardized and meaningless thanks to the undiscriminating prioritization of corporate America.
ASAP doesn’t necessarily mean something is important. It can, but it usually doesn’t.
Rather, it means something very different. Let’s break it down.
ASAP = As Soon As Possible.
The key word here is soon.
Soon [adv.] Promptly or quickly.
He came over as soon as he could.
As you can see, there is nothing in this definition relating to importance. Instead, there is an overall focus on time.
This is why whenever I hear someone use ASAP, I know they don’t necessarily mean something is important.
Like I said, this means something else entirely.
The easiest way to explain the difference is with a little help from Dr. Stephen R. Covey. As a world-renowned authority on organizational leadership, he developed a useful tool called the Time Management Matrix:
As you can tell, most emails and meetings fall within Quadrant III (tasks that are urgent, but not important) or Quadrant IV (tasks that are not urgent AND not important).
When you stop and thinking about your day-to-day activities, how many fall within these bottom two quadrants?
Too many of them.
I agree with the late doctor’s emphasis on Quadrant II.
Instead of filling our time with easy tasks that don’t move the long-term needle, we need to buckle down and focus on things that are important, but not urgent.
These are the activities that actually make a difference, whether it’s at work or at home.
The thing is, these are hard. Not only are these tasks hard to accomplish; they are equally as hard to identify in the first place.
It’s hard to choose which relationships to invest in. It’s hard to proactively plan for the future. It’s hard to focus on personal growth.
Especially when you have someone who chooses these tasks for you.
In this case, there is nothing wrong with asking why.
I don’t necessarily mean repeating why six or seven times until they get fed up and walk away. Rather, ask why you are the right person to execute the task and is it mission-critical.
As a manager, your boss should welcome this sort of independent thinking with open arms. Not only does it show personal autonomy; it helps ensure they are also focusing on necessary tasks, which will make their boss happy.
Switching to a long-term mindset each day is definitely easier said than done. It takes the overriding of years (sometimes decades) of personal and professional breeding.
Next time you find yourself replying to an email, ask yourself:
Is this urgent or important?
What are you working on right now? Is it important or urgent? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter at @williamfrazr.
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