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Definition of 'Important' Simplified

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We teach in our Strategic Time Management workshop that everything we do in our life can be prioritized according to importance and urgency. In the past, we used to define ‘important’ as that, which takes us closer to our worthwhile goals, whereas worthwhile goals are goals, which add ‘value’ to our life and we ‘want’ to achieve them. Based on this definition, we used to teach the value and want grid, and through this grid we used to help the participants identify activities and things, which are important in their lives.

Vision is defined as ‘the picture of the future that we want to achieve’. Vision has two elements build into it: firstly, it has ‘value’, as all of us would create only a vision, which adds value to our lives, and secondly, a vision is something that we ‘want’. In short, vision has both ‘value’ and ‘want’ in it. This leads us to an alternate definition of important: anything that takes us closer to our vision is important, and anything that takes us away from our vision or does not take us towards our vision is not important. We also used to present this simpler definition, which bypasses the concept of worthwhile goals and saves us the need to work on the value and want grid.

The previous definition worked well, when we wanted to define importance without introducing the concept of visions. By the grace of Allah (swt), over the past few years, the concept of vision has been developed to a point, where it beautifully ties into our framework of a meaningful life and our discourse on Time Management.

I now believe that it is time to make the alternate definition as the main definition. We have started teaching this and are finding better results in terms of the understanding of the subject of prioritization, under which this is introduced.

Hence, here is the simplified definition of ‘important’:

Important

Anything that takes us towards our Strategic Vision is called important and anything that does not take us towards or takes us away from our Strategic Vision is called not important.


A vision is the picture of the future that we want to see and a Strategic Vision is defined as:

Strategic Vision

A vision, which is long term, clear and correct.

Some possible elements of our Strategic Vision are listed. Of course, these will be different for different people:

  • good health;
  • strong and healthy relationships with family and relatives;
  • intellectual growth, so as to be able to contribute positively to the society;
  • eradicating poverty and oppression from the society;
  • pleasure of the Creator (swt);
  • being financially sound;
  • happiness;
  • satisfaction.

 

In light of the above elements, the following activities and things would be termed as important:

  • exercise;
  • balanced diet;
  • having a treadmill at home;
  • going for vacations with the family;
  • controlling temper;
  • spending time with the family regularly;
  • earning a degree;
  • doing research;
  • reading relevant books;
  • avoiding sins;
  • maintaining worship;
  • developing excellence in everything we do;
  • being modest in spending;
  • leading a simple life;
  • being grateful;
  • being kind to others;
  • liking for others what we like for ourselves.

 

Now, to get a better feel of the concepts, I would encourage you to do the following exercise. First, list the elements of your own Strategic Vision and then list down the things in your life, which either take you towards your elements of your Strategic Vision (ESVs) or away (or not towards) your ESVs. The prior would be called important, while the later would be called not important.

Classification of activities/things, which take us towards one element of our Strategic Vision, while at the same time take us away from another


Keeping the different elements of our Strategic Vision in sight, it will be evident that some activities would clearly fall under important, for example, having a balanced diet, avoiding sins, being respectful to others, etc. On the other hand, some things will be clearly not important, for example, being ill mannered, having junk food and missing out on obligatory worship.

Between these two clear classifications lies a grey area, as some things would be taking us closer to some elements of our strategic vision, while taking us away from others at the same time. In this situation, we would need to weigh the elements of our strategic vision (ESVs) - if the thing or activity in question takes us towards the ESVs, which are more in value, then it will be classified as important; otherwise, it will be classified as not important.

Suppose you would like to take your family on vacations at a time, when you are financially stretched and have certain financial obligations to meet like paying off a debt. Here are the two groups of ESVs that this activity will impact:important.

Activity: Taking family on vacations to another country.

 

Group 1: ESVs that this activity takes us towards

  • Relaxation.
  • Better relationship with the family.
  • Intellectual growth due to exposure to a new country.

 

Group 2: ESVs that this activity takes us away from

  • Financial stability.
  • Meeting financial obligations.
  • Peace of mind that comes with financial stability.

 

After considering ESVs on both sides, it is for us to decide, which group has more weight. If you decide that Group 1 has more weight, then the activity would be important; otherwise, not important.

In simpler words, many of the activities have both important and not important elements in them, and we need to weigh them, in order to make our final decision. Important elements are the ESVs that this activity takes us towards, and not important elements are the ESVs that this activity takes us away from.

In many cases, when we say that an activity is ‘important’, it does not mean that it has no ‘not important’ elements in it; rather, its important elements outweigh its not important elements.

Similarly, when we say that an activity is ‘not important’, it does not mean that it has no ‘important’ elements in it; rather, its not important elements outweigh it important elements.

Let us take the same activity and articulate it in terms of important and not important elements:

Activity: Taking family on vacations to another country.

 

Important Elements

  • Relaxation.
  • Better relationship with the family.
  • Intellectual growth due to exposure to a new country.

 

Not important elements

  • Financial stability.
  • Failure to meet financial obligations.
  • Failure to reach peace of mind that comes with financial stability.

 

I would encourage you at this stage to identify an activity and list its important and not important elements.

Exercise: Identify an activity and list its important and not-important elements.


Here are two considerations that you should keep in mind, while deciding, whether an activity is important or not. It is the weight that matters, not the numbers.

In the comparison between the two important and not important elements, it is the weight of the elements that matters and not the number, as it is possible that the one important element of an activity outweighs ten not important elements. Let us take an extreme example: you are at a career job, which pays well - you like it, and at the same time, you are in need of money. Unfortunately, the owners change and implement a policy, according to which you cannot take time out for obligatory prayers. After all your efforts and explanations, the management fails to budge. In this case, all of the important elements of this job will be overshadowed by the one not important element, which is the displeasure of Allah (swt).

What if after listing the important and not important elements we are still not able to decide, whether the activity is important or not?

In most cases, listing the important and not important elements will be sufficient to help us classify the activity as important or not. In cases, where we still remain undecided, we need to take the advice of relevant experts.

You are at the age of 45 and have not jogged for years: jogging has multiple benefits but could have negative consequences for your knees. What to do? This is the time, when you should seek guidance from a medical professional.

In conclusion, determining what is important or not in our life is critical for effective prioritization, as at times, lack of clarity in this classification leads to wastage of time, efforts and resources, which could have been better utilized to take us towards our Strategic Vision and long term goals.


 


Suleman Ahmer's interest and belief in the power of visions to transform organizations has resulted in consulting work with groups in Pakistan, the UAE and the US. His consulting experience ranges from local companies to multinational giants. Suleman has taught the fundamentals of Visions, Leadership and Time Management to thousands of individuals in Bahrain, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US. (Read more)


 

 


 

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