Let’s look at two seemingly similar matters - urgent matters and important matters. We may think both come hand in hand but in fact they each serve different purposes. Urgent matters are ones that “press on us; they insist on action. They’re often popular with others...pleasant, fun to do. But so often they are unimportant.” (Covey S. R., p151) Whereas important matters are aligned with results, “...your mission, your values, your high priority goals.” (Covey S. R., p151).
Examples of urgent items can be anything from the printer being broken, the computer system crashing, clients calling to ask for quotes to be re-sent, staff re-rostering and a multitude of other daily tasks that crop up during the day. Although it’s okay to spend some of your time in these activities and delegating where appropriate, but it’s where you spend a majority of your time that counts - and it starts with not being overly involved in “urgent” matters.
When being busy is your default position
Generally speaking, when a typical business owner is asked them how they spent their time and serviced their customers they often explain how busy they were in putting a lot of their efforts into servicing a high demand customer. When finding out more about that customer it turns out that the customer was low on financial return to the business. They used more business resources than other customer’s who provided much higher financial return.
This is a classic example of thinking that being “busy” with a customer means the business is in good shape. Unfortunately this is the zone of ‘delusion’, where “busy” has become the default position in the business without much consideration as to the value of that time to the long term viability of the business. Given the example above, if the business continued to service the high demand low paying customer in the same way and couldn’t find more resources to provide an excellent level of service to the high paying customers, the business would eventually go backward and start to decline. The high paying high value customers would find better service elsewhere and the orders would eventually drop off.
Making busy meaningful
How do we avoid being delusional in our daily business activities? It all comes back to knowing what is “urgent” and what is “important”. We have explored what urgent matters can do to a business when it goes unmonitored, now let’s look at how we allocate a large proportion of our time to what is important.
An example of important matters could be that you have a meeting with the Accountant or Bank Manager and are required to prepare for that meeting. The financial position of the business is highly important. Being prepared with the appropriate paperwork and documents is therefore equally as highly important.
Another important business matter may come from a major economic downturn in consumer spending which affects the foot traffic into your business. Putting together a small team of experts from within your business to gather intelligence will enable you to decide how to reposition and respond to the change. Consumer spending has major long term impacts on business which may result in retraining staff to learn new products or services, refinancing or even downsizing.
A third and less obvious example of important matters may be in setting goals and targets for the business to reach in the next quarter. This may come in the form of implementing a faster quoting and payment system to better retain high value high paying customers and service a higher volume of new customers. Updated systems keeps the business overheads lowered in the long term and requires less staff to be employed and wider profit margins.
Attending to important business matters is knowing how to react to what is important and what is urgent. This understanding is critical to making the best use of your time, putting the emphasis on Zone Activity within the Time Target.
One Percenters in business
To keep on track and work on your Zone Activities as a discipline,try adopting a “1 percenter”1 attitude like they do in sport. As a Business Leader continually improving and applying pressure on your competition is essential. It’s those constant “1 percent” group of activities such as retaining high value customers, improving operations, refining products and services, finding new ways to increase margins - when supported by people in your business who put in a little bit of extra effort in - will sustain and drive a business to its ultimate success.
Covey S. R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 1990. The Business Library. Melbourne Australia.
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