The tyranny of the urgent. We often live our lives running from one urgent thing to another. The urgent and the important are not always the same thing. They vie for attention, each claiming a significant place in our minds and on our to-do lists. But very often we take care of the urgent while maintaining a nagging thought that something else is getting shoved aside in the process.
What these might look like:
- A broken down vehicle.
- Spilled milk.
- Answering the phone.
- A sibling squabble.
- A bill that is due today.
- A project deadline.
- Building deep relationships.
- Communicating with our spouse.
- Enjoying and interacting with our children.
- Loving our neighbors.
- Being hospitable.
- Creating an atmosphere of life-long learning in our home.
- Becoming debt-free.
The urgent is usually a good thing. But the urgent often consumes our attention. So much so that we neglect to stop and consider how to get the important things done.
There are times when the urgent and the important are the intersect. A few weeks back, I watched another neighbor’s kids as they took their son to the emergency room. It was urgent, but it was also very important. If you are trying to stay out of debt, paying your bills is a good thing too. These are situations when the urgent is the important and it is what needs to be done right now.
But the phone call. Does it need to be answered right now, when this is the first time you have had a chance to talk to your husband all day?
Is working on a project more important than having someone over for dinner?
Is simply dealing with an argument over a toy by arbitrarily choosing who gets the toy more important than stopping what I am doing, interacting, and using that as a teaching moment with my kids?
I sometimes find my day has completely gotten away with me as I tend to spills, change diapers, and break up fights over a toy, and I have not even read a single book to my kids. And yet reading to my kids and creating an atmosphere of life-long learning is something that is important to me.
And often the urgent never needed to be urgent at all. If we had a plan for paying our bills, the urgency of the due date would never happen. If we had planned ahead for the project, it would have gotten done before the last minute.
The urgent has a way of getting done. When there is a diaper blow-out it gets changed, no matter what else is going on. When something is screaming for our attention, we deal with it. And those important things that are not at the forefront often get pushed back. Later. We’ll deal with those when we get a chance.
1. Know what is important.
Too often, I think this happens because we haven’t actually written down what is important to us. What is our family mission? What is our personal mission? What are the things we value? You have to first know what it is before you can make sure it happens.
2. Make a plan for the important.
Once you know what is important, you put the important in the calendar first. Put the date on the calendar for when you are having company. Plan a specific time a day to read aloud to the kids. Have times when the phone and computers are off and you are focused on communicating with your spouse. Plan blocks of time to work on an important project so that it is not left until the urgent last minute.
Plan for the important. Don’t worry, the urgent things that are truly important will get done. That is how life goes. But don’t let those important things that don’t seem urgent get away from you.
What does this look like in real life?
Reading is important to me. It is part of who I am as a person. It is part of being a life-long learner. It is part of who I believe God created me to be: a creative human being that needs to always be learning.
But if I do not plan I won’t have time for it. That is the reality of life. So I plan. My kids take an afternoon nap or rest time. The first thirty minutes of that time I spend reading. I read before I tackle the to-do list, or the business, or the phone calls, or Pinterest. I plan for those thirty minutes. Often I’ll pick up my book at other times, but those thirty minutes are planned. That way I know it happens.
Hospitality is important. With busy lives, however, it is easy to be consumed in events and the day-to-day. Before we know it, weeks and even months have passed without having had someone over for dinner. We plan at the beginning of the month who we will have over. We often have people over spontaneously. But at least we have a plan for one so that if life gets busy (and it does), we will not have neglected hospitality completely.
Lately, I realized that I was letting too many things crowd out exercising. Children, logistics, etc. But my long term health is important, so I simply need to make it happen. Somehow. I made a plan and am intentionally fitting it in when I know my kids don’t need me (read early morning). So far it is going well, but it is still too early to call it a habit. I will keep you posted, though!
Avoid spending your life running from one urgent thing to another at the expense of the truly important. Plan for the important, and let the urgent fill in the crevices.
What important thing are you planning into your days in order not to let the urgent crowd it out?