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John Lennon sang “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  

And of course what’s true for life is true for the life of an organization in spite of our wish that goals and structure and execution make it different.  What happens to the big ideas, the big goals?

The bestselling book The 4 Disciplines of Execution teaches that the “whirlwind” (otherwise known as the real-work or the day-job) is the enemy of big ideas and new activities. 

What percentage of your energy is consumed by the daily momentum, the stuff coming at you from outside, the urgent but not always important? 
Maybe 95%? 

Failing to attend to urgent things bites you quickly, not attending to important things – the big goals – has a slower corrosive impact. 
When urgency and importance clash, urgency wins every time.

We spent some time reviewing the 4 disciplines of execution in an Executive Roundtable this year and one point became quickly apparent to the group: 
Slowing down or pausing the whirlwind isn’t possible – or desirable. 
Good things and important things happen in the whirlwind, it’s the life force of the organization.  And like a river, it flows even when you’re not watching it!

But we need to understand and critically observe the whirlwind in order to know what’s actually happening – then we can become the expert in seeing the difference between urgent and important, and giving time to the important.

The goal is 20%:  spend 20% of your time, consciously and consistently, on the important-not-urgent bigger goals and you will make them happen.
Leaders know the difference between urgent and important, and pay attention to both.  Watch the whirlwind from both inside it and outside it and carefully cultivate the 20%.