By Lee Scott
Years ago, I had a professor we called Dr. Frank. He was a budget analyst at the Pentagon and taught a graduate night class at my college. He was quite a character and one of those professors who was memorable. Most of the students had jobs during the day, so Dr. Frank coupled his finance lecture with practical work advice. On the last day of his class, after our final exam, he gave each one of us a sheet of paper titled “Dr. Frank’s Principles.” There were seven of them, but the one that has stuck in my mind throughout the years was this:
“The first thing on your list will be the fourth thing you do.”
He was right. Throughout my banking career and now with writing, it has proved true. I sit at my desk each morning to review my priorities for the day, but regardless, the most important task on the list seems to always be the fourth thing I undertake. Why? Because we always get interrupted by something more important which requires our immediate attention.
This happened to me this morning. I was heading out for an appointment. It was the first thing on my to-do list, but as I was walking out the door I realized I had not taken anything out for dinner. So, I turned around to the kitchen and took some chicken out of the freezer. Then my phone rang, and I was reminded to bring a report to the meeting.
As I stood there waiting for the printer to finish printing out some pages, I heard the washing machine buzz, so I threw the wet clothes into the dryer before I grabbed the report and headed out the door.
It was then, as I was driving to the appointment, I thought of Dr. Frank again. Even after all these years, he was right. But it took me a long time to realize that one of the teaching points he was trying to make was to be flexible. Do not be so structured that you lose sight of what needs to be done immediately. I would have been disappointed if I had not had something thawed for dinner. The appointment would have been less successful if I did not have that report, and it was nice to have the laundry done when I got home that afternoon.
There are so many self-imposed deadlines that dictate our lives, but Dr. Frank has helped me through the years understand it is OK to address those important interruptions that come up throughout the day. It is all right if the most important thing on your list is suddenly No. 4. It will ultimately get done.