The biggest challenge here is confusing urgency with priority. Urgent issues are one that need to be dealt with right now! If you don’t act now, the opportunity disappears. The pressure of an exploding opportunity often spurs us to action. At HBS we fondly refer to this as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). On the other hand, items with priority are those which are truly important to you. The stuff that matters.
As responsibilities and opportunities grow (and they inevitably will over time) the number of urgent tasks will quickly grow in volume to consume your enter life. Without careful thought this can lead any but the most deliberate to spend their whole life blocking and tackling the urgent minutia – and completely missing what truly matters to them.
So how is one to avoid this trivial existence? Triage. Just like in any good intake ward – there are firm rules for who to treat first – the same should exist for your life. Take a day and make a list of the most important goals in your life (build a great company, find a spouse, grow my relationships with close friend/family). Then, be ruthless.
Every opportunity should be compared against that list of what matters to you. If it doesn’t fit into one of your life goals. Just say no! Nothing is more liberating psychologically and nothing will make you more effective at the things that matter. High volume mediocrity is still mediocrity.
If you’re a young employee – this is especially important to keep in mind. Everyone will try and dump thankless work on you. Don’t take it. If you don’t gain anything from doing minutia (and if you’re at a big company you won’t). Just say no. Don’t do things just because you are asked to. Take a strategic view. If it doesn’t help you in the long run Go find better things to do with your time that will make for a great resume bullet point.
As a parting thought, I’ll share one of the most insightful questions of my first year – posed by Shikhar Ghosh. If you’re around 30 years old right now you have 50 years left. Another way to look at this is 50 years x 50 weeks – you have 2500 weeks to live.
What will you do?