Avoiding the Tyranny of the Urgent

Several months ago, I spoke to a large group of military officers and contractors. My topic was “How to Shave Ten Hours Off Your Work Week.” In my speech, I provided seven tools for achieving greater productivity and restoring work-life balance.

Photo courtesy of ©, Image #2388668

Photo courtesy of ©

My fifth suggestion was to “schedule time to actually work.” This is one of those ideas that seems so obvious when you say it out loud. However, it is not widely practiced, I can assure you.

In fact, after my speech, one of the senior officers came up to me and said, “I never thought to schedule time for myself. I can see now that this one idea could dramatically reduce my workload.”

Yes, indeed. Imagine actually doing your work—at work, rather than dragging it home to do in the evenings.

In order to do this, I simply schedule blocks of time called “Office Work.” These are essentially appointments with myself. I reserve this time for working on routine tasks or important projects.

Before I started doing this several years ago, my time quickly got gobbled up with the “tyranny of the urgent.” (Charles E. Hummel wrote a powerful essay on this topic by the same title in 1967. It had a profound impact on me as a young professional.)

The bottom line is this: if you don’t have a plan for your time, someone else does. The first one to claim it wins!

Knowing this, I use Sunday evenings to review my upcoming calendar as part of my weekly review. In the process, I make sure that I have blocked out sufficient time to actually do the work I have agreed to do in all the other meetings I attend.

During this scheduled block of time, I shut my office door, turn off my email and Twitter feed, turn on some instrumental music, and get to work. If someone asks to book a meeting during that time, I can honestly say, “I'm sorry, but I already have a commitment at that time. How about _____?”

The commitment is, of course, to myself.

Questions: Have you ever tried scheduling time with yourself? How has that worked for you?

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