193 – ‘Losing my importance’ (with apologies to R.E.M).

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          350 words

feather duster

I was talking with a colleague recently about a matter that I believed was important that wasn’t being addressed and my thoughts on why this was happening. He made a salient comment – the longer resolution is delayed, the less important the matter becomes. Over time it will lose its importance. 

How often have you heard people say ‘if it was important, it would have been done by now’. Working in local government is a constant battle between the urgent and the important, and finding out what is really both urgent and important. Social media has injected a definite sense of urgency into political problems, but are they really important?

I have often wondered why managers have such difficulty seeing the difference. The following matrix can be a helpful way to focus your attention.

important and urgent matrix

If a distant fire front is left burning it is understandable if it ceases to become important. Either people become accustomed to it or they don’t see the need for action. Far more attention is generated by the spot fires started by embers from the fire front and generating lots of busy work. They are usually at your feet and visible to everyone and there is immediate heat if they are left unattended.

In comparison, better planning and decision making is always deferred when distractions present themselves. I know many managers whose daily work is driven by the emails that they receive throughout the day – they continually scan their inbox for the next thing to do.  It is easier than getting their minds around the hard stuff of management.

On the flip side, I once had an experience when I was the acting Group Manager and I was unsure of the importance of a document I had received. I asked the Personal Assistant to the Group Manager whether or not she knew if the document was important. Her response was an insight into her 20 years as a personal assistant to Group Managers. She said ‘that’s your job – make it important’. So I walked down the hall and handed it to a manager and asked him to act on it.

Instant importance.