Most of us schedule our time according to what we need to get done during a particular day or week. Because of the urgency of immediate tasks, we often neglect our long-term goals. Ironically, this can undermine our ability to put out short-term fires.
This type of blunder isn’t new. How many of us have worked dead-end jobs for little pay that takes away from our ability to pursue a better-paying job? As business blog HBR points out, however, failing to schedule time for projects that will pay off in the long run, in favour of putting out the immediate fires, is a quick way to ruin yourself:
Leaders and organisations are under more stress than ever to do two things simultaneously: deliver on today’s pressing commitments by troubleshooting and refining processes; and find and invest in innovation opportunities that will create tomorrow’s success. How your organisation responds to this stress in allocating scarce resources is a crucial but often unaddressed issue. The natural bias is to respond immediately to what is in front of you (like answering endless emails as they come in, for instance). The problem is, this instinct crowds out longer term, innovative thinking.
We’ve talked to many organisations in this bind. One of them told us, “We’re playing non-stop ‘Whac-A-Mole’ here.” At another, the unfortunate mantra was, “The urgent drives out the important.” But we’ve found that many leading organisations are able to overcome this bias, diverting significant resources away from today’s requirements to fund the innovations that will deliver tomorrow’s value. To find out how they do this, we focused on the two key questions underlying the challenge: How much is your organisation spending on innovation? And how much do you think it should be spending?
The advice comes in the context of running a business, but it applies to daily life as well. Working 60 hours a week at a job that barely pays the bills solves the immediate problem, but it ruins your chances to learn new skills and get a better paying job in the future. A task doesn’t become less important just because it’s less urgent.