There’s a wood pile around the side of the house. It used to be a fence, once upon a time, and it got torn down and put around the side for processing. I need to get out there with a saw and a pinchbar and break it down and slice it into pieces for burning in the fireplace for winter. I did it with the other fence, I’ve got the tools, I have the skills.
However, I’ve forgotten about it, distracted by many other things. The gutter needs replacing. The floor needs sweeping. The garage needs a thorough clean. There’s a hole in the garage roof somewhere that’s letting in water when it rains heavy. I’m getting through those things, as well as the day-to-day. But the woodpile seems to be a special case. I walk around the side of the house grab the mower and there it is, staring back at me, marking my failure.
Will I get around to it? Yes, I will. There’ll come a day when I’ll grab the saw, set aside a whole lot of time and motor on through. I’ll make a lot of noise, annoy the neighbours for sure, make even more mess and end up with a sore back and a shed full of wood. That day was not today. Nor yesterday. Why not?
You could point at that rotten pile and ask me, “How long would that take to clear?” and I’d say, “About a day if I go at it hard.” And you could say, “So why haven’t you gotten it done?”
Because it’s not a high priority. We’re coming out of winter, now. I don’t need the wood just yet. Sure, it’s attracting spiders, I get it. Apart from being a home for bugs, though, what harm is it doing? How does that rank above, say, playing football with Joey? He needs my time, too. How does it rank above helping Wifey with the shopping? Or visiting my folks?
Which brings me to the point. The priorities of life shift and change depending on circumstances, and those circumstances aren’t so straightforward. I remember, long ago, my father telling me that to help sort through the myriad problems coming at you, you can break things up into four categories, based upon urgency and importance.
Urgency describes the timeliness of the issue. There’s a deadline. It’s looming. If it doesn’t get done pronto, things will be bad. How bad? Well, that’s the next bit.
Importance describes the consequences of the issue. If not resolved, will things go south? How far south? Likewise, if resolved, will there be a boon.
By making a little mental matrix, we can sort the issues in terms of urgent and important, not urgent but important, urgent but not important and, lastly, neither urgent nor important. Since time marches on without our permission, the urgent tasks are dealt with sooner, and the important tasks later, unless the important task is calamitous.
Yes, there are many ways of sorting problems. This is just one of those ways and it’s a quick way to weed out quickly those issues that don’t need your immediate attention and, to boot, it doesn’t require a lot of mental gymnastics.
Take today, for example. At 9:55. Joey needs help getting his meeting going, I’ve got twenty failing unit tests, there’s a meeting on in five minutes, I need to write a blog post, I need to deploy a new version to a remote server tonight, the cat wants to go outside and somewhere, after a bunch of other things involving the school and the house and the bloody cat, the wood pile peeps out that it needs to be cut.
I guess the wood pile will have to wait.