It’s easy to lose sight of the distinction between the truly important and the merely urgent.
There is an age old two-by-two model called the Eisenhower Matrix. It helps sort out what matters from what does not. If used well, it can focus our time and energy in the right ways. A Google (or privacy-respecting DuckDuckGo) search will bring up many versions of this tool.
Anyone who has used the matrix will know how it is when you sit with this task of sorting the important from the urgent. You realise how much of what you do is a distraction. It is the important but not urgent tasks that add up to more satisfying lives and careers but that paradoxically get the least of our precious and finite attention. So much can feel urgent these days, like it needs our focus right now.
If you’ve lost focus in the busy and instant lives we are living, a coffee with the matrix could be a good starting point. You could also explore the practices outlined in this article such as pausing more, questioning intent, removing unnecessary tech distractions, and letting your monkey mind jump around so that it can eventually settle.
But what if you have that pervasive feeling that you are flying too close to the sun?
Contrary to populist thinking, burnout is not the result of working too hard or having too many demands placed on us. And the antidote for burnout is also not as simple as taking time out. The biological state of stress has provided opportunities to flourish through shifting and disruptive times. Short bouts of stress strengthen and enhance our abilities. The magical state of flow is defined as a balance between challenge and competence level – without the stretch the magic does not happen. But our stress axis is designed for sporadic and not the constant activation we see today which causes so many forms of systemic exhaustion. We need a say in what we are doing, some control over decisions, a measure of autonomy and purpose as buffers against stress. We may assume the person needs fixing, but perhaps there is something in the context that requires resolution, or perhaps it is in the fit of the two.
If we need to take ‘time out’, as the ever-wise Seth Godin tells us, maybe we should focus on setting up a life we don’t need to escape from.
In all things, you should always keep coming home to yourself. And here is what we mean by this. Answer these 3 simple questions, out loud, to yourself.
- Where can I make my biggest impact in the world?
- What kind of impact do I want to make?
- How can I do this?
How did you fare?
These are thinking questions. Most people need some time to get to clarity.
Those who have done the work are clear in mind, heart and word. Their energy and focus are usually palpable and inspiring. Purpose is a great prioritiser.
It’s easy to lose sight of the distinction between the truly important and the merely urgent. Getting closer to the truly important could be the most significant ‘time out’ you take this year.