man running urgently

Important vs. Urgent

In Life Lessons by Tommy ThompsonLeave a Comment

Over thirty years ago, I learned from Stephen Covey about a life-changing paradigm shift. At the time, I was running a thousand miles per hour convinced that the faster I ran, the more impactful the results. As a result, I moved faster and faster. Instead of getting better results, I grew exhausted, and my impact waned.

Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, drew a vital distinction between that which we do, which is urgent and what we do that is important. He outlined four quadrants with Urgency on the vertical axis and Importance on the horizontal axis. I was sure that I knew where he was headed.  Of course, that which was both urgent and important would be of the highest value. But Covey surprised me by claiming that the important but not urgent was, in fact, the most important. Check out the graphic:

When I saw his point, I realized that my elevation of urgency as almost synonymous with importance led me to a constant crisis mode. The stimulation of always being busy and frazzled was keeping me from what was truly important. From that moment, I began to redefine my effectiveness by the degree to which I could avoid urgency by being ahead of the game. This was a game-changer.

 As I look at the four quadrants, I think of them this way. Quadrant 1 is “crisis mode.” At times, crises are unavoidable, but they are not where I want to spend the majority of my life. Quadrant 3 is “busyness.” These are those times where we have huge checklists to accomplish, which may make us feel productive, but the checks do not move the needle. Quadrant 4 is “time-wasters.” For me, those are activities like surfing the web, playing online games, combing social media. These activities are not bad in and of themselves. There are times when they are harmless fun. But the tendency for them to occupy all of the spare minutes places them into the unhealthy Quadrant 4. Quadrant 2 is “the heart.” When we look at what matters, we are looking at Quadrant 2. Peace and joy make their home in Quadrant 2. Life has pieces of all quadrants. The key is not allowing the glitter of the other quadrants to crowd out the substance of Quadrant 2.

We are all going to have times when we are busy. We all have urgent tasks and responsibilities which demand our immediate attention. But if we get to the point that the urgent dominates our energy and our time, we would be wise to reevaluate the way we are operating.

Take a look at this list of important but not urgent choices which would make our life richer:

  • Unrushed relationship
  • Creativity
  • Reading
  • Walks
  • Traveling
  • Expanding Experiences
  • Learning
  • Enriching Play                        
  • Journaling
  • Reflection
  • Prayer
  • Exercise
  • Planning
  • Mentoring

The urgent threatens to crowd out all of these vital activities. Take a look at your schedule. Consider your internal speedometer. Is your life ruled by the tyranny of the urgent? How might you shift the balance? You might begin by scheduling in indelible ink those activities which you deem to be essential and forcing the urgent to fit around those activities. With time and a new paradigm, we can begin to enjoy the peaceful fruit of living more in the center of what we most desire.

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