Urgent v. Important; A Facebook Time-out

Urgent vs. Important – or equally well known in parenting and business circles as the Facebook timeout. I’ve been hearing from many folks lately with complaints about valuable time wasted or lost but only realized once they’ve emerged from one of the many daily trips down the rabbit hole of social media. Much of the criticism is pointed at Facebook where daily usage by over 1 billion people does appear to make it the watering hole everybody must stop at to take a daily drink. Some call it Facebook Fatigue. You emerge dissatisfied and find yourself diverted from your daily goals.

Now is the right time to revisit the growing dilemma of dealing with Urgent vs. Important tasks in your day. Let’s start with an internet search (of course) of the phase “urgent vs. important.” I was surprised to see “Eisenhower Box” among the top offerings along with a ten year old Harvard Business Review article. But look up “Facebook sabbatical” or “Facebook timeout” and a massive variety of choices are offered up.

Eisenhower Box.uploadjpgThe Eisenhower Box was a wonderful representation of how to process “inbound” demands on our time and it represented the “how” of time management skills and techniques in a world long vanished. Today, few people ever lift their faces up from the device that has become as addictive as opioids. This device (I hesitate to call it a phone) is where selfies become the default camera mode and human beings can become human doings if they’re not careful.

The addictive nature of these devices plays to the very human need to be acknowledged by others. This is the principle that most social media platforms exploit and therefore it is important to explore the “why” of today’s dilemma of Urgent vs. Important

Seth Godin rightly points out that responding to Urgent makes us feel competent – we must reply to an email – we want to acknowledge another immediately upon seeing their post. And it is so easy to act. A single touch of “like” or “swipe” triumphantly meets the urgency head on.

But is it important, this inbound missive?  Does it help create something of value?  Doing important work takes time and continuous focus.  Developing a drug to combat deadly disease takes years if not decades. Building an inclusive society that doesn’t leave behind the poor, the elderly and the differently-abled means taking risks and standing out from everyone else.

If Urgent makes us feel competent then important is likely to be a time elongated task shadowed by fear and uncertainty of outcome. Will the project succeed? Will the time invested prove valuable? Will real jobs be created? We may not know for years if the path taken is the right one to a measurable success. Would Thomas Edison be encouraged in his work today?

He was famously known for saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work” on his lifelong way to creating 1,093 patented inventions. But equally important was his belief that “The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think.”

Are we thinking about why disruption in the marketplace is so rewarded? One should question today’s reliance on MVP (minimum viable product) that is often an excuse to build a concept company to be acquired or flipped. Is the focus really a scalable startup that will deliver the creation of important jobs for the future? We are just a few years away from self-driving vehicles and chatbots taking over many tasks while providing predictably “correct” answers to our questions. But as business and society moves forward, the most important questions will not be answerable by search.

Consider then, the heretics who want more than just a world dummied down into the simplicity of swipe right, swipe left.  A former manager of mine talked about chipping away each day at the big tasks – of building trust, of being present and listening more than speaking.

When it comes to “Important” will you take the time to build the future – or will you swipe away the hours with all the idle time soon to be presented to you?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.


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