A friend once told me: “I’m a terrible procrastinater!” I contradicted her at once. “No,” I told her, “you’re an excellent procrastinater. In fact, you’re probably the best I know.”
Of course, we all put things off. Back in my shared household days, one of my housemates was a fellow teacher. When it came to report time, she would always busy herself with housework to a much greater extent than usual. One year, I had the Friday off and I – perhaps rather perversely – made sure all the normal household chores were done: Dinner cooked, bathroom cleaned, dishes done, lounge room vacuumed. She came home, looked in the kitchen, looked in the bathroom, then dragged the vacuum cleaner to the lounge where I told her, “I just did that ten minutes ago!” Rather than being grateful for the chance to start her reports, she returned to the kitchen, emptied every cupboard, cleaning it out and wiping down the shelves – a task which took her several hours. I would have helped, but I figured that she must really need her procrastination.
Anyway, you’ve probably noticed that little chart with the categories of Urgent/Non-urgent and Important/Not Important. And yes, I probably should have started talking about that straight away, but like I said, we put things off sometimes. Anyway, Steven Covey (the “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” guy) suggests that good things happen when we begin focusing on the top right quadrant: Important but Non-urgent.
If you think about this, it makes perfect sense. We don’t have the time to do everything, and, of course, we prioritise the Urgent and Important. To use a hospital as a basis for comparison, obviously the patient presenting with heart attack symptoms takes precedence over the one with a possible broken arm. Of course, to the medical people in the Emergency Department, all will have some sense of urgency, if only because the patient is right there, asking for attention. While educators rarely have anything as pressing as a heart attack patient, we have daily events and incidents that demand our immediate attention and action. Some will be legitimately as urgent as the hospital emergency ward, but others will only feel urgent. In the hurly-burly of the day, it’s very hard to make the distinction. And because we so often feel the sense of urgency, when they’re not in the Urgent side of the ledger, we often place both the Important and the Not Important into the same category.
At one school, I remember the amount of time and attention given to a “uniform blitz”. This occured every Tuesday and it was accompanied by a couple of minutes of one of the Assistant Principals reminding us of the procedure and telling us how important it was to check the students’ uniform. I mention this, not through some anti-uniform rejection of the school’s rules, but simply to point out that this was given a sense of Urgency. But only Tuesdays. (It occured to me that you wouldn’t have to be the sharpest student to notice a pattern here…)
While we all have slightly different ideas about what’s really urgent and what’s really important, it might be worth taking stock from time to time and checking to see if you’ve started focusing on the Urgent and Non-important ahead of the Non-urgent and Important. Maybe you’ll find that you’ve even started to focus on the Non-urgent and Not Important simply because, well, it’s easier to spend time cleaning out the cupboards than writing your reports. (Actually to be circumspect here, cleaning out the cupboards probably fits into the top right quadrant.)
Anyway, a few months ago, I created this little chart which I intended to fill in:
However, I just never got around to it…