Monday, June 11, 2012

Creating the Future: Investing in Those Important-Not Urgent Tasks

As a reminder, I maintain two blogs. This one primarily views the world through a branch campus lens. The other, “Creating the Future,” is broader. Generally speaking, in “Creating the Future,” I write about innovation in higher education, but I also write at a more personal level about positive psychology, well-being, strengths-based leadership, and encore careers, among other topics. It’s my playground for exploring or sharing ideas.

Recently, I published five posts on “Creating the Future,” about time management. The series grew out of my concern that many talented, well-intentioned administrators are struggling to devote time to new initiatives that may be important to the future of their institution. Too often, they seem trapped by day-to-day challenges, not to mention meetings and events that serve the needs of the existing institution, but do little to advance needed change.

I’ve been there, and I know plates can be very full. As I described in the posts, following Stephen Covey, there are essentially four types of tasks: Those that are Important-Urgent, Unimportant-Urgent, Important-Not Urgent, and Unimportant-Not Urgent.

Obviously, if you are spending time on things that are neither important nor urgent, you have issues! Important-Urgent tasks are what we might call “crises,” and they demand your time and attention. However, in this day of tight budgets and cost control through staff reduction, leaders can drown in a sea of Important-Urgent tasks, which amounts to very little real leadership, at all.

The perverse tasks are those that seem urgent, but, in fact, are unimportant. These tasks often reflect someone else’s sense of importance, and often they amount to someone trying to “delegate” a task back up to their supervisor, or someone over-reacting to a personal situation. (Just because a task is important to someone, or even to everyone, doesn’t mean that you are the person to handle it.)

Leadership, not to mention recognizing and responding to those tasks that are critical for innovation, requires that people spend as much time as practical in the area of Important-Not Urgent items. These are the tasks that are not “hot-hot” right now, so they are easy to push aside, thinking there will be time for them later. It is seductive, can lead people to believe they are doing good things, and can completely rob your institution of an opportunity to thrive in a time of disruptive change.

The point is not that leaders should ignore emergencies or refuse to help someone with a challenge they are facing. However, it is essential to protect time to invest in innovation, because that is where real leadership opportunities lie.

I hope that readers of “Branch Campus Life” will consider checking out “Creating the Future.” You can find it at You might find it worth following!