There is no certainty in life, but you can make things more certain!

When I was studying for my G.C.E “A” levels in a small English town of South Shields back in 1981/82 I asked my chemistry lecturer, Dr. Ian Chalmers this question, “Dr. Chalmers, how sure are you that this will not come out in our A levels examination?”

I learned very early on that in national examinations, adherence to the syllabus when setting examination questions was the standard practice and hence I studied only what was in the syllabus! Thus when Dr. Chalmers decided to skip a small part of the Chemistry syllabus, I was naturally anxious.

“Mr. Chow, in life, death and taxes are the only certainties!”, answered Dr. Chalmers smilingly. This was really eyes opening for me, back then as a 19-year-old.

Of course my ole lecturer was right, nothing is certain in life but you can do something to make it more certain! In our case, I guessed correctly that the bits that Chalmers missed would not be asked in the examination for some reasons and the only way I would be more certain to do well was to study harder, which I did and scored a respectable Grade B!

It is important to distinguish something that is urgent,from those that are important and finally those that belong to the “by-the-way” category.

Around 1997, I was serving as a senior staff of a college in Klang. We had a collaboration with an independent Chinese school and were summoned by our director to meet him at his office in the business district of Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a 3 pm meeting on this collaboration. My team member JMJ whom I had instructed to get the college’s vehicle so that we could all carpool to KL was to be the driver. Traffic condition in KL of the late 1990s, due to the construction of the Twin Towers and monorail, was chaotic. I waited over an hour for JMJ to pick me up from my home in USJ en route to KL, a trip that would have taken just 35 minutes during off peak hours. By the time he picked me up and reached our director’s office, we were an hour late. JMJ, upon my questioning told me that he had to wait a long time for one of our colleagues somewhere in Klang who was just hitching a ride to KL with us! In this case JMJ did not think rationally, he did not know that his and my presence on time at a meeting with one of our “boss’s bosses” was both important and urgent and hence to be made “as certain as possible”. Instead, he concentrated on the “by-the-way” hitch hiker resulting in yours truly, as his superior, having to take the brunt of the rage from the director of the college.

So when my wife told me that she would send me to take the LRT to my usual weekly visit to my client at 10 am after her yoga class at around 9 am (or it could be 15 – 20 minutes later, she said) each Thursday, to be more certain of my reaching the client’s place as promised on time, I declined. I rather leave the house much earlier, at 8:15 am, walk 18 minutes to Taipan LRT station so that I would be more certain of reaching Kota Damansara via the Lembah Subang LRT station and feeder bus T807 before my appointment!

Thus, urgent things may not be important but must be taken care of “urgently” such as the kettle boiling! But important things, though must be made more certain to be done on time, may not be urgent enough for one to drop everything, especially “urgent things” to do. “By-the-way” things are really not urgent and not important so that you will only do this (such as giving a lift to a colleague en route to an important meeting) if you have made certain that the important things and/or urgent things that you are supposed to do are “made more certain” of happening. Quite a mouthful, I must admit!

I hope after reading this, my readers are more able to classify tasks / things to do etc. into these three categories and treat them accordingly.

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