“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least” – Goethe.
It’s abundantly clear and simple when we read and understand this, yet most often we struggle to prioritise our things in our daily lives especially when we have to manage them together at the same time. In our defence though, we Indians are far superior in handling multiple tasks/priorities simultaneously and crisis management compared to many other nationalities that I know of right from our homes, managing our chain of relatives, neighbours, multiple bosses, why even running coalition governments, given the way we have been brought up to struggle at each and every step in our journeys to reach somewhere. Quite literally, from the moment we step outside and into the maddening traffic!
But it is a completely different story if fire fighting is the order of the day, and could be even endemic, if we start believing that is quite “normal” or how it would be. In reality, not everything actually needs to be managed as “top priority” or simultaneously. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discusses prioritisation as the Habit #3 or First things First, and goes on to explain how Quadrant II (important but not urgent) activities get relegated and become critical later. He says we tend to give “importance to urgent things rather than giving urgency to important things”, simply because urgent things act on us whereas the important things, we need to act on.
It is so easy to get into the delusion of being productively engaged while doing a relatively less important activity for long, as most often we tend to believe that if something took away our time, it was indeed worth it! This false notion of getting “busy” is equivalent of doing something “important” is so ingrained in us that we wonder why there is too little time to accomplish too many things. But is it really because we don’t know what is truly important for us and we keep prioritising wrongly that we end up in this situation? I don’t think so.
In my opinion, the real issue is not our inability to understand what is important or not, as most of us are intelligent enough to understand that, but who gets to decide what is important for us, especially in our kind of society where assertiveness is often mistaken as arrogance or saying a NO is generally considered as rude, even if it is said politely! So much so, we are so eager to say Yes to things that we don’t even know of as it is also a taboo to say “I don’t know” if someone asks us something that we really don’t know.
So an important assignment to be completed, or a book to be finished, or a health check-up to be done can all wait, but not a “friend” or a colleague who pulls us into a discussion that we don’t want to get into or a movie that we don’t want to go and watch. Don’t get me wrong. I am not for a moment saying so starting now one should firmly say no to all such things and neither am assuming anywhere that one did not enjoy those discussions or the movies. All that I am saying is we need to be aware of who is calling the shots in such situations of conflicting priorities, whether or not our consent to that was tacit or explicit. More importantly, to be accountable for such decisions or choices that we make, and not give such esoteric excuses like “coalition compulsions” or “dharma” later when caught on the wrong foot!
It is just not enough to know what is truly important for us and what is not to prioritise correctly, but it is equally important for us to be the decision maker ourselves and be accountable to the choices that we make, whether or not we did it under compulsion or free will. And it would only help us if we learn to say a firm but polite NO at least when it matters most, if not all the times, than drag our feet and get caught in quicksand. It might be a bit uncomfortable or even painful to do so, but then, the pain of an injection is better than that of an amputation.
Image courtesy – http://theumbi.com/
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