In the business world—and in life in general—we have important things to do, and we have urgent things to do. What’s the different between the two? Well, something that is important will have a real and profound impact on the company; it’s important because it’s strategic. It will be critical to attaining your long-term business goals. Meanwhile, urgent means that if you’re going to get this thing done at all, you’re going to have to do it very soon. It either has an imposed deadline set by someone outside your business or it has a natural deadline that means if you don’t do whatever it is by a specific date, there’s no point in doing it at all—and those deadlines aren’t next year or even next month. Instead, they’re usually next week or even tomorrow. What’s more, there’s not just one of them; generally, a whole bunch of these deadlines are coming at you so fast and furious you hardly have time to think. That’s where the “tyranny” comes in. When the urgent takes hold of your business, it becomes a tyrant. It ends up running the entire show.

Things that are urgent aren’t always actually important, though. In some phases of the business cycle, the tyranny of the urgent can make you miss the things that are truly important to your business’s success and well-being. Urgency creates a sort of optical illusion that makes you think that urgent things are also important things, even though when it comes right down to it, they’re not. The urgent can all too easily take over a company’s mind-set and become a culture—and the important can be overlooked.

During the rapid growth business cycle I call the Tornado, however, many important things suddenly also become urgent. It’s a little like you were playing baseball one moment and then suddenly found yourself playing dodgeball. Instead of just one ball coming at you in a slow, predictable way, you’re being pelted with a whole bunch of balls all at once, from all directions. Each one of those “balls” has strategic potential—but you don’t have time for strategy. All you can do is respond as quickly as you can and get ready for the next one. You have to do what you have to do.
When you’re overwhelmed by the tyranny of the urgent, some things that are truly important but not urgent may be overlooked. There’s just no time for them. Everything is in a whirlwind—and that means lots of errors get made. So much is going on, and no one has time to think about the big picture. Overarching problems (important things) aren’t addressed, which can mean that the urgent things just keep multiplying.

During this phase, you’d be wise to seek help from an outside expert, who can help you sort out what’s genuinely urgent from what’s merely important. An objective set of eyes will also help you focus on what is the symptom and what is the problem – and help you focus your attention where it’s needed most, to survive the cycle you’re in and best prepare for the next.