The “Tyranny of the Immediate” Tyrannizes Leaders Most of All

You’ve probably had a time and priority management course somewhere along the way. Or, maybe you’ve read a book about it. You learned about how often the less important tasks take up too much of our time, to the detriment of our not tackling the more significant areas of our job duties. There’s a reason for this. The less important tasks are usually easier and take less time. In addition, we get to enjoy the repeated satisfaction of checking things off our to-do list. And we look back over our day and say to ourselves, “This has been a good day. Look at all that I got done.”

The cost of not getting to the major priority duties is high enough. But it is much higher when we are a manager. How often I have taught or coached managers who have been recently promoted out of the ranks they now lead. It is so easy for them to be distracted by operational problems that their people can handle, problems that they used to love handling when they were one of the team. It’s a joy to knock these off because it comes so easily to them. And it is accompanied by that tiny shot of dopamine in the brain that is triggered by a pleasurable experience.

But what tends to be delayed are the manager-level tasks that they are being paid the higher salary for: taking a strategic view of the unit’s work and processes, looking for ways to make the team more productive, coaching staff, dealing across boundaries with other departments and levels of management, and so on. These tasks are more complex and more difficult, especially for the newer manager. It’s not surprising that the path of least resistance is to delay–even avoid–them.

So, if this sounds familiar to you about your typical day as a manager, I invite you to consider the following:

  1. The shortest route to your success as a manager lies directly through these tougher duties.
  2. The longer you delay, dabbling in activities that you did before (and others now are paid to do), the longer it will take you to make the impact you want to make on the organization and in the eyes of senior management.
  3. Try tracking your days for a week or so and noting which to-do’s you tend deal with first, what distracts or interrupts you in the course of your work, and which tasks and projects you put off or never seem to find time to do.
  4. Notice whenever you decide to take on a task that you could–should–delegate to one of your employees.
  5. If you use some version of a “task list,” prioritize your tasks as high/medium/low in importance for your ultimate success as a manager. Then try doing a high priority task or two before opting to knock a less significant one from your list.

© 2014 – 2016, Ian Cook. All rights reserved.

Ian Cook About Ian Cook

Ian Cook, presenter and consultant, works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: For more articles and book reviews of interest to managers please go to: