Important or just urgent? Managers need to stay focused on big picture

Niggly, overdue jobs can have a serious impact, distracting busy bosses from the bigger picture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 October, 2015, 12:19am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 October, 2015, 12:19am

Even the most experienced managers are sometimes so busy and lost in the day-to-day swirl they forget to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent.

Important things will move the dial in your business. They include big-picture, memorable projects and are most often directly related to your clients' success. Urgent tasks have immediate - or past due - deadlines. They are often menial check-list compliance items that you have deferred (handing in your expenses, for example) and now have become urgent. Chances are you have a dozen urgent or overdue tasks right now, and it is a Saturday.

Your first step to clearing this logjam is to get organised. That means make a "to do" list, written down either digitally or in a traditional notepad. This simple act will reduce the constant nagging panic of spiralling out of control.

A quick review of the list should help you immediately identify the few items that stand out as important. At the end of the year, is this activity going to help you achieve your goals (important) or is it just going to get a monkey off your back (urgent)? Prioritise the important tasks and address them when your brain is at its sharpest. Block time in your diary and switch off distractions.

Next, determine how much of the remaining process-oriented work can be automated and delegated. Are your travel preferences logged online so you do not need to repeat the same information every time you book? Have you downloaded apps that help you automate expenses? Can you delegate this work? If you take the time to set up these things properly once, life becomes a lot more efficient down the line.

What you do for yourself, you should also do for your business. Automating and digitising processes doesn't just save time, it helps you recognise opportunities. Banks should be automating and centralising know-your-customer information, so it is available to everyone from compliance, to the teller trying to cross-sell a new product, to the wealth manager trying to determine what investment suits you best.

Failing to distinguish what is important from what is urgent is often why you never quite accomplish that significant outcome. It holds you back from focusing on the big issues. These are the decisions that differentiate you from colleagues who are mired in the daily churn.

Automate and digitise, delegate and outsource the repeatable processes to ensure it gets done on time. Free yourself to spend time on the important next big thing. Important is just that: it's what really matters.

Ravi Chhabra leads Accenture's Financial Services business in Hong Kong, providing strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations services