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Demands That Matter

"It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is what are we busy about?"

-Henry David Thoreau

I work with high performers who are under constant pressure and must deliver on countless demands each day. When I talk with them about enhancing resiliency and managing stress it is usually under the assumption that demands continue to increase as the resources necessary to deliver on them decrease. They want to be able to do more with less, after all that is what becoming more efficient and productive is all about. However, over the last few years I have begun to challenge the assumption of these increasing demands and the thought that we do not have the ability to manage or influence them in some way.

Many people have heard of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix that categorizes demands as urgent or not urgent intersected with important and not important. The idea is that the urgent + important gets priority and should be taken care of right away. This could be an emergency that has negative implications for customers or employees and if not addressed could result in dire consequences. Another example might be an important deliverable that is time-sensitive for a client or your child. The demands that are important + not urgent should be scheduled in to ensure that they get addressed in a timely manner to prevent urgency or a need for a reactive response. An example might be an important project that has future deliverables and so time must be set aside to work on project components over the next several weeks. At the personal level, self-care (like exercise) should be considered important although it is not urgent. If it gets brushed aside, then issues could arise over time that then become urgent. As Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” The urgent + not important may be able to get delegated or in some cases streamlined, but it should not get in the way of the important. Finally, the not urgent + not important may need to be eliminated.

When I have clients evaluate all the demands they are trying to juggle each day, I have them consider various possibilities or factors. I encourage you to read through these as you reflect on the relenting demands you encounter each day. Be honest with yourself and challenge your own assumptions about what you ‘have to’ or ‘need to’ do each day:

  • Quality of the demand: Does working on the demand create value in some way? Is the outcome of working on the demand meaningful? Does the outcome of working on the demand have impact? Does working on this demand energize you or allow you to use unique abilities or skills? Does this demand align with your purpose or values?

  • Controller of the demand: Are you the only person that can respond to this demand? Are you involved with this demand because you don’t trust others to do it right or the way you prefer? Are you having trouble letting go of this demand even though others could or should do it?

  • Self-imposed demands: Is this truly a demand in which others are expecting a meaningful outcome or is this demand completely self-imposed? Are you the only one expecting a result? (we have more of these than we think!)

  • Inflated, False, or Empty demands: Are you exaggerating the importance or urgency of this demand? Are you exaggerating the value or impact of this demand? Are you inflating the amount of time, effort, or resources that will be required to deliver on this demand? Is this a demand that only exists because it has always existed, but perhaps no longer has the impact or value that it used to? Do you need to have a conversation with the ‘owner’ of this demand?

  • Busy-work, Check-the-box, or Avoidance demands: Does working on this demand simply keep you looking busy to others, but does not bring a worthwhile return on investment? Are you engaging with this demand simply to ‘check the box’, but there is no real value in doing so? (some meetings) Are you working on this demand to avoid more important, but harder demands? (Think Netflix instead of exercise!)

  • Organization and Prioritization of demands: Do you have a clear understanding and list of all the demands in your life? Have you taken the time to appropriately organize and prioritize these demands according to importance, urgency, value, and impact? Have you created a system to appropriately manage and distribute your demands?

  • Distractions and Interruptions impacts on demands: Have you created an environment in which you can appropriately work on important and urgent demands without distractions and interruptions? Do you have a culture that respects and values distraction-free and interruption-free outputs for important work? Have you considered the best place and time to work on this demand to get the best results or outcomes?

  • Waste Reduction of demands: Is there a more streamlined method to deliver on your demand? Are there demands that can be eliminated or conducted with less frequency due to changes in value, importance, or impact? Is there an opportunity-cost to deliver on some demands? Can demands be re-distributed differently to allow for more efficiency? Are some demands being duplicated within the team or organization that can be re-worked in some way?

This list of considerations is far from complete and I am sure that you could think of more factors to reflect upon when it comes to demand assessment in your life, but it is a start. We will all have more demands each day than we could possibly complete, even if we stayed up late (which many of us do)! The idea is to deliver on the most compelling demands of the day; the demands that ultimately put us on a path in which we feel that what we do is important and that it makes a difference. I wish you all a life of meaningful demands!

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