By the time you get to security check-in, you realise that you are quiet late, so you cut the queue (“My plane leaves in ten minutes!” you shout).
You walk fast.
As you get closer to your gate, you realise that walking fast is not going to work, so you start to jog.
Three gates away, you start to sprint, and if you are lucky you barely make the flight.
For most people this is how they catch their flight.
The second way is to leave home for the airport 30 minutes or an hour early.
The easiest way to deal with change and with all the anxieties that go with it is not to deal with it at all, by avoiding it by leaving early, by planning early.
However we find the easiest thing to do is to allow the urgency of the situation to force us to make the decisions (or take actions) that we would rather not take.
Because then we don’t have to take responsibility for what happens. The situation is at fault, not us.
The beauty of the asymptotic curve is that at every step along the way, running over faster for the plane is totally justified.
The closer we get, the more we have invested ourselves.
The more we invest in making our flight, the easier it is to justify running like a lunatic to make it.
I always host workshops and conferences and we usually advertise them three, fours months in advance. No fewer than 70 percent of the delegates send their payment the night or two before it was due.
Some even want pay at the door even when we specifically advised against that (for security and logistical reasons). These are the lastminute.com folks.
Businesses spend millions every year on last-minute deliveries because, like most of us, they confuse urgent with important.
Urgent issues are easy to address. They are the ones that get everyone in the room are ready for the final go-ahead. They are the ones we need to decide on right now, before its late.
People don’t do things on time, they leave things for the last minute. They are obsessed with urgent.
How can you tell if you are obsessed with urgent?
Do you postpone making decisions, reading documents or preparing for a meeting until the last minute?
Do you cancel meetings regularly because something else came up?
Is waiting until the last minute the easiest way to get a final decision from your peers?
Smart entrepreneurs ignore the urgent.
Smart entrepreneurs understand that the most important issues are the ones to deal with now.
If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.
I have struggled with this concept when I almost missed a flight, when I’m half prepared for meetings and when I almost missed my deadline for my research paper.
A key corollary to this principle is the idea that if you don’t have the time to do it right, there is no way in the world you will find the time to do it over.
Too often, we use the urgent as an excuse for shoddy work or sloppy decision making.
You will succeed in the face of change when you make the difficult decisions first.
It is easy to justify running for your plane when it is leaving in two minutes and you are only five gates away. It is much harder to justify waking up an hour early to avoid the problem altogether.
Alas, waking up early is the efficient, effective way to deal with the challenge.
Waking up earlier may seem foolish to the person lying in bed next to you, but when you enjoy the benefits of a pleasant stroll to the gate, you realise that your difficult decision was a good one.
Organisations manage to justify draconian measures, retrenching staff, companies declare bankruptcy, not paying suppliers on time, closing stores, by pointing out the urgent of the decision: “We need to retrench this month because its urgent, we can’t afford to keep staff anymore.”
They refused to make the difficult decisions when the difficult decisions are cheap.
They don’t want to expend the effort to respond to their competition. Instead, they focus on the events that are urgent at that moment and let the important stuff slide.
A quick look at the gradually failing airlines, retailers and restaurants chain we all know about actually confirms this analysis. They are all content to worry about today’s emergency, setting the stage for tomorrow’s disaster.
“We will jump the bridge when we get there” is the cliché that sets us up for the urgent disaster, if it is important, plan for the jumping of the bridge now.
Better, I think, to wake up an hour early, make some difficult decisions before breakfast, and enjoy the rest of your day.