Prioritizing Your Daily Action List, but Watch Out for NIMA

Some years ago, a friend and I became somewhat obsessed with time management. He found a system called Your Time and Your Life, which consisted of about a dozen cassette tapes and a small workbook. Our wives would have deleted the word “somewhat” from the first sentence.

The idea was fairly simple. If you took the time to integrate your life goals and the things you did each day, you would be happier and get more done. Perfect: first, set the overarching goals; second, outline the steps necessary to achieve them; and the daily tasks will almost automatically fall into place.

I was reminded of this (to the extent you can be reminded of something that you do every day anyway) when I saw a chart in The Wall Street Journal created by Dante Chinni and Randy Yeip. It was adjacent to an article entitled “Politics Counts: The Budget Battle and ‘NIMA’ Bias.” NIMA – Not In My Administration – was a term new to me.

Chinni and Yeip drew upon the work of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press in a study called “Twelve Years of the Public’s Top Priorities.” In the study, 18 policy objectives were ranked in the order of their importance to Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Since 18 divides very nicely by three and since my efforts to prioritize my daily action list require the use of A’s, B’s and C’s, I grouped the policy objectives into three categories and looked at which ones were more or less equally important to both parties.

These four rank as A’s for both parties: strengthening the economy; improving the job situation; improving education; and defending against terrorism.

If every aspect of governance is simply a popularity contest, why not focus on these? Since all agree on their importance, solutions should be easier.

Once the first four are completed, move along to helping the poor and needy or reducing crime, both of which are in the middle third or B category for each party.

In prioritizing, you almost never get to your C list because there are too many A’s and B’s. That is curious because the following four rank as C’s for both Democrats and Republicans: dealing with global warming; improving infrastructure; dealing with illegal immigration; and dealing with global trade. Why then is there so much Washington focus on items that barely move the popularity needle?

Though I have never tried to create a compromise to-do list with another person, it seems logical that a considerable source of conflict would be areas that one side thought far more important than the other.

Sadly, reducing the budget deficit ranks 11th on the list for Democrats but second for Republicans even though it is supported by 67% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans. 71% of independents agree.

This has not always been the case. In fact, from 2002 through 2008 more Democrats supported deficit reduction than Republicans but from 2009 through 2013 the importance of the issue has flipped between the two parties.

Let’s see. What can we think of that was happening from 2002 through 2008 that was not happening from 2009 through 2013? Hmmmmmm….. (sounds of thinking). Republicans appear to believe that it is okay to run a deficit when they are in office while Democrats appear to feel the same way. They just don’t seem to want the other guys doing it.

A system that says “deficits are fine as long as I am running them” cannot ultimately be successful. With overwhelming majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans favoring deficit reduction perhaps the goal should not prove quite so elusive.

Unless, of course, our elected officials are not listening to their voters, but if they are not listening to their voters what are they doing? I thought the only other choice was leading but there is little evidence of that either.

Oh, silly me. Raising money.

Setting goals and managing time never had to deal with NIMA.

2 Responses to “Prioritizing Your Daily Action List, but Watch Out for NIMA”

Richard Meyer, March 18, 2013 at 5:26 am said:

Was it not Cheney who said ” Deficits don’t matter”?


Stan Hatch, March 23, 2013 at 3:29 pm said:

I remember Obama’s comments about the deficit on his first time around. He described the growing deficit as, among other things, as a process of borrowing money from China to buy oil from Arabia and putting the whole thing on our credit card. Of course he had a pitch for everybody and once in office, most of it was not delivered. I voted for him. Largely because I held Bush accountable for Iraq. How foolish of me to really think Obama would really care about the deficit.

The Dems are against spending cuts and want tax increases. The Repubs, we know, will fight any tax increase. So where does that leave the deficit.

If a Repub were elected, he or she would fight for tax decreases (hopefully by lowering rates and eliminating deductions and credits) and for spending cuts. The Dems, we know, will block any spending cuts. So where would that leave the deficit.

As I’ve said, for any significant deficit reduction, there will have to be both spending cuts and tax increases. My hope is that there will be 3 dollars of cuts for each 1 dollar of new taxes, but I know that will be blocked by Dems as much as they can. This is why I believe there will be no significant long term deficit reduction as long as the Dems control one branch in Congress.

Obama is smart enough to know what his A list should be. But he’s also the ultimate politician. I think it’s impossible to get elected in the first place unless you are one. Stan Hatch


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