When Everything is Urgent

Put First Things First (Eliminate the Distractions)

There is nothing like a deadline to get our heart racing and blood flowing. Some of us even claim to thrive on pressure and wait for the deadline just to start the assignment.

Urgent projects demand a response. And because they do, they quickly go to the front of the queue and we react. This is essential in a crisis – a critical deadline for instance. But given the demands currently overwhelming healthcare IT departments, it has become the new norm. As a result, we perpetually react – responding when a project becomes urgent. But is this the best way to work?

Definitely not. It is a problem for two reasons:

Personal health threat: As humans, we are programmed with a fight or flight response to danger. But our biological mechanics are designed for short bursts – not prolonged periods of overtime and pressure. Sustained work stress reduces blood flow to the brain, interferes with digestion, and reduces our ability to burn fat (among other things). It drains our energy and can negatively affect our health.

Diminished results: Once we enter the mode of constant firefighting, strategic objectives tend to fall by the wayside as does upfront planning, productivity and stakeholder relationship building. By managing to crises, we may be getting the urgent work done but it is unlikely that we are as efficient or effective as we could be.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

To break the pattern, focus on the “important” work. Dwight Eisenhower once said “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” This concept was further developed by the late Steven R. Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Covey describes the difference between urgent work and important work as follows:

“Importance has to do with results. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals. We react to urgent matters. Important matters that are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity. If we don’t have a clear idea of what is important…we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.”

3 Ways to Focus on the Important Work

So how do we ensure we are working on the important stuff? Here are three steps that turn the tide:

  1. Get clarity on your organization’s high priority goals – First, we have to gain an understanding of our health system’s strategic objectives. Good sources include communications from the executive team plus annual and quarterly reports. The website usually has a mission statement, values and key initiatives. HR manuals may also provide useful information.Of course, we also need to understand how our work can contribute to these goals. Our manager, HR rep and mentors should be able to help us with a line of sight.
  2. Align your work with the goals – once we’re clear on ways we can contribute to the hospital’s plans, we need to organize our work to ensure progress on the important projects. This may look like an enormous burden for a busy person so simplify it into manageable steps. Then prioritize the steps by identifying the critical path, dependencies and resources. Finally, get started by setting aside time each week for these projects.
  3. Reduce the “urgent” list – Covey points out that many urgent tasks are not important. He offers a method for spotting these energy drainers along with ideas to minimize them.

Being proactive by working on important projects before they become urgent will also begin to whittle down the urgent list.

Finally, you may be able to delegate some tasks to others. Perhaps the requesting party would have the time and skill to handle part of the project. Or they may be willing to compromise on the scope to make the project more realistic in the timeframe.

Call in the Experts

One way to off load your urgent queue is to call in experts. Polaris Strategic Solutions does this for our customers. We are experts at report writing and data analytics for hospitals. We sell only one thing, a comprehensive service that provides hospitals with custom reports (of all kinds) — on demand. We work according to your priority and specifications. Our report development is quick and thorough. And we work with various data sources across your organization.

Our scope is wide ranging including daily key indicators, financial, quality & regulatory, productivity, physician practice, process improvement, planning and marketing.

You can count on us to do what we do best — help you get to the meaning in your data – quickly and effectively! So you can focus on those important projects.

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