The only habit of highly successful people that Meyers could remember was #3: first things first. The other ones, something about being proactive, another one that encouraged you to synergize were too vague to be of much use. But the illuminating distinction between urgency and importance was so simple and so clear that it spoke to Meyers hunger for a secret key, a filter or even just a new perspective with which he could change the course of his career.
It was maybe bad luck that much of what had often been urgent in Meyers’ life also turned out to be important. His failure to clean the gutters a few Octobers ago had had disastrous consequences on a load-bearing wall in his kitchen. Not to mention a scarring fight with his ex-wife. But this unpleasant memory did not diminish the power of the principle. Even years later, the urgent/important paradigm had a special place in his cognitive tool-kit. Other systems (colored parachutes, personal brands, emotional intelligence) had come and gone but first things first remained an operating principle. Whenever Meyers heard the phone ring or just recalled some annoying errand he’d been putting off for weeks, he would find himself asking himself: Is this just urgent? Or is it really important?
It’s true that there had been stretches of time when it was difficult for Meyers to identify something important enough to put off all the things he didn’t want to do, but that was no longer the case. Importance had been thrust upon him, and he felt a renewed energy and focus. He went to work the night after their first meeting, surfing the Internet, looking for more clues to the character of B--, the great man he was now responsible for advising.
Invisible forces seemed to be aligned in his favor once again for Meyers discovered that B-- was speaking at a conference that very week-end at a resort in Southern Maine. B-- was on a panel provocatively titled, “Breaking the Rules.” Meyers immediately called the number listed on the website. The woman on the phone made sympathetic noises but explained that the conference was unfortunately fully booked. Meyers was not surprised. He had long been an avid conference attendee and knew how fast they filled up, especially with speakers of B—‘s caliber. It had probably been booked for months.
The woman was explaining how he could sign up to see the speakers streamed on the Internet but Meyers was already imagining the conference itself: all the small delightful details, from the excitement of choosing among the array of panels, the animated debates at day's end, big talk about the future, the sense of possibility. You could find yourself talking to the founder of of empires. You never knew where they might lead. That’s why Meyers usually attended several a year. It had been another sticking point in his marriage. But what was more important than career development! An experienced conference-attendee like Meyers knew that even first-rate conferences had a high rate of cancellations at the last minute. The kind of people who let the urgent get in the way of the important, Meyers thought. But Meyers wasn't one of those people. He was already searching for a hotel room.