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During the life of your project, you'll have to solve problems and make numerous decisions. One of the most valuable skills to develop is the ability to focus on the things that are most important. People sometimes confuse urgency with importance. A ringing phone is urgent, but the call might not be important. Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, uses a graph that categorizes the things that compete for your attention by importance, and urgency.
Because the items in each quadrant of the graph require a different approach, you start by gauging both the importance and urgency of each problem and decision you face. The first step is to determine whether the item is important. To assess importance, you can ask two questions. Does this decision or problem have a significant impact? Does the impact last for a long time? If the impact is significant and lasts a long time, the item is very important.
Suppose the general contractor wants you to choose the flooring for the studio. The flooring has a big effect on the comfort and safety of the clients. If you choose the wrong flooring, the impact could last a very long time unless you decide to shut down the studio to replace the flooring. So this decision is very important. On the other hand deciding between navy blue lockers and regular blue lockers isn't that important, because color doesn't have a big impact. And the lockers are easy to paint if you want to change colors.
The second step in your problem or decision analysis is when you have to act. For example, if the contractor tells you the flooring order has to be placed by the end of the day for the materials to arrive on time, you know the decision is urgent. If you have four weeks to decide, it isn't urgent. If the problem or decision is both important and urgent, start working on it right away. If the problem or decision is important, but not urgent, grab your calendar and schedule a time to work on it.
That way, you'll make time for important items that don't clamor to get done, like planning or skills development. Urgent, but unimportant items don't simply disappear. If someone comes to your office with an unimportant issue, for instance, what sandwiches to order for the all-hands status meeting, you might delegate it to someone else. Unimportant and non- urgent items are the easiest. For example, when you check your email and find unimportant items waiting, you might reply to the sender with a suggestion for someone else who can pick up the sandwiches.
When you dig in to solve problems, start by taking the time to understand what the problem is. Look beyond the symptoms to uncover the underlying disease. When someone says, it doesn't work, how do you know where to start? Find out why people think there's a problem, and what they think is causing it. Ask questions like what are you trying to do, what were you expecting, what happened instead? The next step is to identify and evaluate your options.
List options and then identify their pros and cons, so you can weigh the overall benefits of each one. Keep in mind, doing nothing is an option, and can be a reasonable alternative. Solving problems and making decisions takes practice. Pay attention, and apply these techniques whenever problems arise until the steps become second nature.
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