urgent vs. important

How well are you dealing with the artist’s struggle of the urgent vs. important? In his terrific book Making Your Life as an Artist, Andrew Simonet writes, “Most artists spend the vast majority of their time dealing with immediate problems. The PR package that was supposed to go out two days ago. The grant that’s due Friday. The communications that stream in all day every day.”

Many musicians get stuck in this “putting out fires” mode, always racing to catch up with whatever we are late on, scrambling to get things out. We keep chasing the next immediate gig, living in the focus of today, tomorrow, this week—as opposed to being able to think, dream, and live bigger.

Are you allergic to planning?

Many musicians are so used to living in the here and now that planning can feel constricting. With overpacked lives any long-term goal can seem impossible. So confronting what it takes to complete a dream project may be overwhelming.

But check out what Andrew Simonet has to say on the topic: “Planning lets us spend a small amount of time on the big, long-term things that are most important to us. And that means those big things will actually happen. Planning shifts artists from reactive to proactive.”

I love this. Imagine investing a small amount of time each Sunday to look over your schedule and plan for the week ahead. That way, you can choose what you will and won’t do so you can lower your stress level.

Picture investing a consistent 45 minutes each day on your long range future. Think how that might change everything. BIGGER living is all about investing consistent time in your longer term projects.

No matter how crazy your schedule is you CAN make room for longer range goals. The first step is to distinguish between two types of tasks . . .

Urgent vs. Important*

* this is a short riff from my book, “Beyond Talent

An urgent task is one that requires immediate attention. Like you need to pay the electric bill because the company has threatened to shut off the juice, or you need to do laundry because you’ve run out of clean socks and underwear. Or there’s the application that’s due tomorrow that you’re just drafting now.

Important tasks, on the other hand, are the activities that don’t come with deadlines but that are necessary to achieving your larger goals. These are the things that you need to make time for, such as sending email pitches for performances, upgrading your promo kit, networking, and planning your next project. These tasks are easy to push aside unless you make them a priority.

Designating Time for the Important

Making something a priority means scheduling specific time for it in your daily and weekly calendar—and making it a commitment that you honor. So you don’t treat these time blocks as optional flex time that can be used to take care of something more pressing.

This may feel, at times, selfish. Making your long-term goals a priority often involves having to say “no” or at least “not now” to others. Ultimately it’s about respecting your priorities and investing in your future. The bottom line is if you don’t respect yourself and your goals no one else will either.

Are you worth it?

It’s all too common to have your schedule get out of control because you’re frantically taking care of the urgent at the expense of the important. This is not only an issue for individual musicians, it’s also the sad truth about how most arts organizations are run.

But with planning, you (and any organization you help run) can better manage both kinds of business—the urgent and the important. It helps to remind yourself of . . .

What’s at the root of the challenge

It’s the unconscious decisions we make, day in, day out: whether to tackle the urgent or the important. Seth Godin explains “The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent . . . [The] important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure. Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”

The idea of dancing with the fear is really what the creative process is all about.

It’s simple, but not easy. If we avoid the fear by not working on what’s important, we avoid learning and growing as artists and as people. Having courage doesn’t mean you don’t feel the fear; it means you feel the fear and you act anyway.

Here’s a terrific interview with Seth Godin on Dancing with Fear. It’s 27 minutes and a good investment of time if you’ve ever held back from putting your most daring work out in the world.

This week: Name the fear that’s affecting your career lately. Consider how you might approach it with curiosity and experimentation. Can you acknowledge the fear and wade into it to get going on the important work it’s pointing to?

In dealing with the urgent vs. important, remember that all you have is this one go-around in life—let’s make the most of it.

Check out my other posts on fear and on time management.

And if you’d like help designing a practical plan to self-manage and move ahead in your career, let’s talk! I’m at angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com.

Here’s to dancing with your fear so you can get to what’s most important,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well!

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