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Thursday / June 13.
HomemilastwordThe Last Word: Everything Sorts Itself Out

The Last Word: Everything Sorts Itself Out

Lists, calendars, reminders, planners… so many of us believe that if we can just get the right system, the right software or app, we’ll be able to get everything done. We try to juggle these balls all day, every day but add one extra thing to our day and the balance tips.

The other day, a mate told me about a period recently when he felt completely overwhelmed by the demands on his time, but, in the end, everything “sorted itself out”.

Isn’t life like that?! It has a way of sorting itself out – whether that be for good or bad. Ignore some things and they’ll go away. Ignore others, and the consequences can be horrendous.

On the battlefield, and in hospitals, triage systems sort the urgent cases from the “walking wounded”. In business, various triage models exist. In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey (of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame) advocates a quadrant system. Quadrant One is for “important and urgent” tasks. They go at the top of your to-do list. They are important, must be done today, and can only be done by you. The patient sitting in your chair right now falls into that category. They deserve your full attention.

Life’s like that. It sorts itself out – for good or bad…

“Important but not urgent” tasks are those that can safely be left for later, but must be done, or we face the consequences. The unpaid (but not yet overdue) bills sitting on the desk may fall into this category. But if they’re still sitting there a month from now, they’ll be firmly in the “important and urgent” category.

The third quadrant is the “urgent but not important” category. These are those tasks that might be urgent to others, but not so important to us. Most of the emails clogging our inboxes would fall into this category, if we’re honest.

Finally, there’s the “not urgent, not important” category. These are tasks that can safely be deleted, or delegated. Worrying about them is just a distraction.

What makes it interesting is how various tasks can switch – often quite quickly – from one priority to another. We saw an extreme example of this last summer, when many key players in the optical industry dropped everything to assist colleagues caught in the devastating Queensland floods.

How we factor in the priorities of others when assessing our own and the consequences of failing to complete tasks are also major considerations.

Taking additional time to explain an aspect of eye care (for the umpteenth time) to a patient may seem neither important nor urgent when weighed up against an overfull appointment book… but you know that it is both “important and urgent” for them. And it will be for you, if they can’t understand your instructions and their condition worsens.

In the end, we need to accept that we can’t do and have it all. All we can do is our best to prioritise what is important to us, and be mindful of the priorities of others. There will always be compromises. At times, we’ll drop a ball or two, but, in the end, life will sort itself out… one way or another.