In business, as in life, we often feel trapped in the tension between the “urgent” and the “important.” We might consider the former to be tasks of survival — if we don’t do them, everything will fall apart. The latter are more connected to our ideals and strategic goals — to build the thing we want, we need to do these things.
Whether we realize it or not, the “urgent” generally controls our behaviour. As soon as the urgent gets intense, we abandon our important, strategic work. Survival, after all, is a primal instinct. It feels natural for operational tasks to trump longer-term projects.
If the present has to be in perfect shape before we allow ourselves to work on the future, then we’d never do any strategic work.
Natural, perhaps. But is this a healthy habit for your business? Is this how your business will become the best version of itself?
New HabitStack members are often surprised when we encourage them to give attention to their strategic work even when it means they’ll have to leave some urgent problems unresolved.
The hard truth is: If the present has to be in perfect shape before we allow ourselves to work on the future, then we’d never do any strategic work.
The key is to change how we think about the urgent. Contrary to what your survival instincts might be telling you, it’s rarely a choice between future opportunities and allowing your company to burn to the ground. The stakes of the “urgent” are just rarely that high. For most of us, our instinct is to err on the side of caution; often, we don’t even see the choice we’re making. What we lack is strategic self-control.
Let’s consider an example: AwesomeProduct.io sells their software to small businesses. Eventually, the team makes the strategic choice to move upmarket and start selling to enterprises. There’s a ton of strategic work required to make that happen.
But then, a couple of key employees quit and they realize that the team has some morale issues. And, there’s an uptick in the churn rate. And, there’s a downtick in the conversion rate. And, a small business association wants to promote AwesomeProduct.io to all of its members as long as this one feature is added. And. And. And.
Surely, these pressing issues take precedence over the strategic goal of breaking into the enterprise market, right?
Maybe. They certainly require some attention. But does each of these situations need to be in perfect shape before the team can get on with the strategic work? Which problems are worth the “all hands on deck” approach that’s needed when the ship is truly going down? Which are more of a “let’s monitor it closely and see if it deteriorates further” situation?
We need to learn to recognize and resist the reflex to abandon important work.
As humans, we need to learn to recognize and resist the reflex to abandon important work despite being bombarded with “urgent” problems. This requires mental toughness. When you’ve formed new habits in this area, you’ll find that you can find a way to control the needs of the present _and _keep pushing toward strategic goals.