About half of us said, “I keep doing less important things instead of the most important things in my life.” Good to know I’m not alone in recognizing this and working to change.

I’d be easy to stop choosing less important things over more critical things if there were only one cause and one solution, but that’s not the case. Each of us is unique in how we play out choosing one thing over the other.

For simplicity, I’m going to put this into three broad categories:

  1. Not Urgent – Not Important
  2. Digital Distractions
  3. Out of Integrity

Not Urgent – Not Important

We face a constant battle of urgency and importance. Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, called this the tyranny of the urgent.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Have a look at the Dr. Stephen R. Covey graphic below. How much time are you spending in each quadrant?

First Things First

“Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.” Dr. Stephen R. Covey

For a deeper dive check out an article on the Art of Manliness website where I learned that Covey likely popularized a model used by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

When we choose the urgent, but not essential, we are likely operating by someone else’s agenda or priorities. Urgent can come from a co-worker, partner, or kid’s wants and needs. Or we may be paying attention to the endless notifications and pings from our phones and computers.

Wasting time is illustrated by Quadrant 4, which includes procrastination, binging on shows and games, and the myriad of other avoidance techniques. Some of my favorites are reading, snacking, and scanning the news.

While easy to notice after I’ve wasted a bunch of time, it’s hard at the moment for me to catch myself because I “need” to relax, eat, and keep up to date. However, this makes it easy for me to indulge in Not Urgent – Not Important at the expense of Important – Not Urgent work.

Hit Reply, How do you Q4?

Our work is to spend less time in Q3 and Q4 and more time in the Effective Quadrant – Q2.

To move out of Q3 we can begin by turning off most notifications on our apps and programs. And in the relationship realm, we can use our warrior archetype to set boundaries.

Moving out of Q4 involves setting personal boundaries – putting First Things First, which is Habit #3 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I’ve begun putting my phone in another room when I’m writing and setting timers so that I focus for 50 minutes and then take a ten-minute break. And I schedule in two longer 30 – 45-minute breaks each day. It’s helping and I’m a work in progress.

Digital Distractions

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was published in 1989, long before smartphones, social media, texting, email alerts, and multiple browser tabs. Today our ability to concentrate is impaired by the amazing phones and computers most of us access every day.

“Focus is the new IQ” – Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

I can feel my phone in my pocket. It’s pulling at my attention and playing on my fear of missing out. All of which is driven by a profession that did not exist 20 years ago – Attention Engineer. Focusing is becoming harder and harder for me.

I used to be able to read for hours. Now I find myself picking my phone up again and again. I think it’s time for me to try digital minimalism.

Listen to the Jordan Harbinger’s interview with Cal Newport to learn:

  • Why focus is the new IQ.
  • Why decluttering and resetting focus is essential.
  • The best ways to declutter optimize your capacity to focus.

If you recognize digital distractions as a challenge for you, consider taking 30 days off from all non-essential personal digital technology. The digital detox explanation starts at 33:30 in the Jordan Harbinger Show interview.

Out of Integrity

Avoiding distractions, not wasting time, and eliminating digital noise are crucial first steps, but they will not completely solve the less important Vs. more important challenge.

Integrity: when my actions and choices are in alignment with my values and priorities.

We all face conflicting choices. Do one thing or another. Keep an agreement or break it. There is no practical way to eliminate this dilemma. But there is a bright side. Deep and personal insight can come from looking at our choices, impact, and the source of our motivation through what we call accountability within the Mankind Project.

Here are the definitions I use for the accountability process.

  • Accountability: I’m willing to tell the truth about my choices and take responsibility for the impact of my actions, whether intended or unintended.
  • Choice: I select from several possible actions. I decide.
  • Impact: The outcome or consequence of my choice or action.
  • Shadow: A belief about myself, which I repress, hide, and deny.

I’ll show you how it works with a personal example. This process works best when someone else asks the questions.

The agreement I made was to be open to challenges from my coach. To me, “To be open to challenges” means considering his questions and giving honest answers.

I didn’t keep my agreement. What I chose to do instead was respond with anger, attack him personally, and avoid sharing my doubts and fears.

The impact was to cause conflict in our relationship. I believe he may trust me less. I feel shame and guilt.

I know that there is a shadow at play because I chose a less important value or priority over a more important one. I decided to protect myself emotionally over learning about myself and growing.

The shadows are I’m a failure, I will never be enough, and I can’t do it.

These beliefs are not reality, but they persist. I’m dyslexic, and learning, especially to read, was very hard for me. I began to believe that I’m stupid and a failure. I’d never be able to learn and that I’d always be a disappointment to my parents.

When I react from this old belief system, my choices are almost always out of integrity. I don’t want to operate from my old paradigm. So, I’ve cleaned it up with my coach and done work around this with my iGroup.

Be Accountable

You can try accountability for yourself. Think of an agreement you broke. Then, I suggest getting a trusted friend to ask you these questions.

  1. What was the agreement?
  2. What did you choose to do instead of keeping your agreement?
  3. What was the impact of your choice, on others, and yourself?
  4. What is the shadow that would allow you to choose those impacts over keeping your agreement?
  5. Is this the kind of man you want to be?

Hit Reply – What did you learn about yourself?

If you are committed to showing up as:

  1. Effective
  2. Focused
  3. In Integrity

I encourage you to work on spending more time in Quadrant 2, eliminating digital distractions, and making and keeping agreements that are in alignment with your values and priorities.

Easier said than done. I’m a work in progress, and that is why I’m still a part of the ManKind Project after more than a decade and surrounded by men who help me become the man I want to be.

Go Answer The Call