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Creative Career Path

Important, but Not Urgent2012.01.10

    In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey created an important shift in our perception of work tasks with the concept of things which are Important, but Not Urgent. These are the things that we know we should do, but are not under immediate pressure to do now. They are the things that people list in their New Year’s Resolutions, and the things which easily get put off until later, soon forgotten, and left undone. Common examples include going to the dentist, contacting an aging relative, learning a musical instrument, getting coaching on your career, reading a book, starting a dream project, or learning a foreign language.


    Why do we fail to do the things are that important to us? Some of these reasons may feel all too familiar.


    The task seems too difficult. Nothing stops you in your tracks faster than a task that seems overwhelming. Most people fool themselves into thinking that they are committed to doing it later, when in fact they are justifying a convenient excuse not to do it at all. This is a way of getting out of the commitment, while still saving face. After all, you do plan to get to it someday.


    We don’t know where to start. Even if you know what you want to do, it is difficult to take action when you don’t know how to get started. If everything seems equally important, it generates confusion about the specific next step, or sequence of steps to take. Ironically, instead of actually starting, you spend more time thinking about how to get started. A confused mind is unable to act.


    We easily get distracted. Even if you do get started, it is easy to get distracted or sidetracked at the beginning of a project. This is a hard habit to break, and many people spend their lives starting projects that they never finish. It is important to remember that, “One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.”


    We don’t have time or money to start. This seems to be a very practical reason to procrastinate. After all, if you don’t have the time and can’t afford it, then how can you possibly get started? It seems to make sense to put it off until you do have the time and money, which by the way is probably never.


    We lack a system to keep us on track. The one thing that underlies all of these reasons is the lack of a system for keeping track of your goals. Writing your intentions down in a list is simply not enough to get you into action. What’s worse, it creates the illusion that you are at least intending to do something about it, when in fact you are almost guaranteeing that you will not get it done.


    If lack of a system is what is preventing us from getting started and staying on track with the things we declare are important to us, then what kind of system will make the difference?


    It is important to tie your intentions to a calendar, to schedule your dreams. However, it is not enough to just add these items to your calendar or day planner, because that alone does not prevent us from procrastinating as we have done before.


    What makes the difference is to enter and track these items on a separate calendar, a dream calendar if you will. This acknowledges the fact that they are important, even if they are not urgent. It allows you the flexibility to act within the reasonable limits of your current schedule and resources, but does not let you forget where your intentions really are. Moreover, it avoids the stress and frustration of an impossibly overextended To Do List.


    Parkinson’s Law states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This is applied to the irony of the workplace in which the same job can often as easily be done by one person as by two or three. What can be accomplished in 8 hours can often as easily be accomplished in 3 hours. The positive application of this is that with the proper focus and mindset, you can achieve your intended tasks despite the excuses that stop most other people.


    At the risk of offending Mr. Parkinson, I would like to suggest Reed’s Law as an alternative:

    “Intention expands the time and energy available for completion.”



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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