Managing Urgent Versus Important

Photo By: Eric Kruszewski is licensed under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

Managing Urgent Versus Important

Five Tips from Longtime Leaders

Managing the urgent versus the important gets even more challenging in a rapidly changing world. How does one honor what must be done now AND what must be done in support of the future?

A handful of InterAction Member organization CEOs gathered recently to share their challenges and tips. What do all the tips all have in common? Structure.

Tip 1: Honor how you do your best big thinking.

When Americares CEO Michael Nyenhuis senses the need to lift up above the trees and examine his organization’s bigger picture, he steps out to a coffee shop or library for a few hours of uninterrupted thinking time. He also uses travel time to read and brainstorm. ChildFund CEO Anne Goddard recruits thought partners to collaboratively think out loud.

Tip 2: Don’t just manage time, manage energy.

Americares board meeting agendas start with strategy and then move to more tactical business. This allows creative, dynamic thinking while group energy is at its highest point.

Tip 3: Align accountabilities to honor the important.

Americares creates board taskforces around big-picture strategy ideas that they want to move forward. This subset of board members works with Americares staff on the new idea, keeping great minds focused on strategic priorities while allowing the larger board to carry on with their accountabilities.

ChildFund and Hellen Keller International redesigned their organizational structures to create space for higher impact. Both organizations are moving their administrative functions to a global level, allowing, for example, country directors to focus on program impact while global administrative functions focus on effective finance, human resources, etc. Country directors from ChildFund’s pilot program became top advocates, valuing how this structure and accountability shift created space to focus on driving program success.

Tip 4: Establish boundaries.

To honor both the tactical and the strategic, the Hellen Keller International executive team separates their tactical meetings from their strategy meetings. This way, both strategy and tactics are given due high-quality consideration.

Tip 5: Create a structure to keep sight of nascent ideas.

ChildFund calls this “the slow hunch.” Ideas rarely first present themselves fully baked. The initial sparks need to be developed and matured. A structure to keep track of nascent and maturing ideas can ensure that the idea’s potential is developed.

Next Steps

Circumvent the next collision of urgent and important. Here are questions to ask yourself as you build your own structures for balancing urgent and important.

  1. How do I do my best thinking? Do I process with others, out loud? Do I need to step back and reflect on my own? Create a structure to provide space for your best thinking.
  2. What requires the most creative, dynamic, innovative thinking? Schedule these topics for when you know you have high energy.
  3. What gets in the way of doing our most important work? Consider this for self and teams. Might there be a way to realign responsibilities and create needed space for focusing on the important?
  4. What boundaries do I need to put in place to allow both the tactical and the strategic to get the necessary attention? This might be scheduling boundaries or creating boundaries regarding accountabilities.
  5. Where do nascent ideas go? Create a way to capture, check in on, and intentionally mature them.

Balancing the urgent and the important is a life-long endeavor. There are structures you can develop in advance to support honoring this balance.