When my boys were younger, we used to have a bright green “balancing bird.” Perhaps you’ve seen one — a bird with it’s wings extended so that, if you place its’ beak on your finger, it will balance perfectly even though it looks impossible because most of the bird’s body appears to be on one side of the balance point.
For me the balancing bird is a good visual reminder of something that virtually every leader I know struggles with — finding the balance between the urgent and the important. Keeping with the bird analogy, the urgent is like an annoying blue jay, always making a racket and usually dive-bombing anything that moves within it’s path, making you feel like you always have to be on the defensive. It is hard to ignore, and neutralizing the noise it makes can consume huge amounts of our time. If we’re not careful, the day will be done and we realize we have totally ignored the song of the blue bird — that still small chorus of what is really important in our work and life, because we were distracted by the urgent squawk of the jay.
I’m not suggesting that the solution is just to ignore the urgent. For most of us, that simply isn’t realistic. It is the balance between the urgent and the important that is key. And even it if appears that there is more weight on the side of the urgent, if we have stretched our wings toward the important, we will likely be able to maintain a good balance.
All analogies aside, sometimes life, either personally or professionally, provides a painful wake-up call to take a good hard look at whether you are making the most of your days. Have you really spent enough time on those things that you would clearly deem as important? Not all your time, but enough? Sure enough is a moving target, which means you have to intentionally ask yourself, “Where is the balance point today?”
And when you’re a leader, you not only have to do that for your own sanity, you also have to set an example for others in your organization of how to manage the urgent/important balance. It’s amazing how even a little bit of time devoted to the important can make the day seem so much more productive, and bring a sense of calm to the chaos outside your door.
So put your finger out and ask yourself, right now, would your urgent/important bird hold steady? If you’re not sure, take a moment and stretch your wings toward something important . . . you’ll feel it when you’ve found your balance.