Escaping the Urgency Trap
I keep coming back to Seth Godin’s post about urgency:
In any given moment, an urgency that feels like an emergency gives us the permission to abandon our systems and simply dive in and fix it, as only we can. And this permission is precisely why we get stuck, precisely why the next urgency is likely to appear tomorrow.
Most of us are so stuck on the short-cycles of urgency that it’s difficult to even imagine changing our longer-term systems.
Sometimes what’s urgent and important aligns. Most of the time, they don’t. We should learn to work on what compounds over time instead of working on the ephemeral and circumstantial. Everybody understands this, but few do it. As Richard Rumelt explains in his excellent book Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, we get easily distracted.
The idea that people have goals and automatically chase after them like some kind of homing missile is plain wrong. The human mind is finite, its cognitive resources limited. Attention, like a flashlight beam, illuminates one subject only to darken another. When we attend to one set of issues, we lose sight of another. People can forget to call someone. You may forget to buy milk on the way home because you have attended to driving instead of shopping. And, more important, people can forget their larger purposes, distracted by the pull of immediate events.
That’s one of the reasons why having explicit goals helps us focus. That’s also why daily or weekly reviews are important. They help us get back on track, instead of lying to ourselves by thinking that we are making progress just because our days are full and we end up tired.
Borrowing again from Seth, resolutions don’t work. Habits and systems do.