Monday, November 29, 2010

Important but Not Urgent

Although a grandchild will sometimes say, “I’m bored,” I rarely hear that from any of the adults in my life. Most of us have more on our plates than we can handle. What makes it challenging is that most of it is “good” stuff. Certainly, we all have those tasks that don’t particularly energize us—taking out the trash, washing clothes, vacuuming, paying bills, maintaining our yards—but most of us have more perfectly good things on our “to do” lists than we have time to complete.

When one of my coaching clients talks about finding time to complete “important but not urgent” tasks, I immediately identify with him or her. These are the things that we need to do. They will ensure our personal, spiritual, social, professional and economic security, but they are often pushed to the background due to what one writer called “the tyranny of the urgent.” The urgent things are, by definition, not important but they must be done here and now. Like bad currency drives out the good, so urgent things drive out the important things. The urgent things drain our time, our attention, and our energy.

The first step in dealing with this situation is to remind ourselves why certain things are important. In spending time doing these things, our lives will become more balanced, healthier and richer. By doing these things, we are investing in the future. Do we want to be better than we are, then we need to fine time for the important things.

The second step is to learn to say, “No.” There are some things that I could do, but should I do them? Are they in keeping with God’s best for my life? Are they included in my personal priorities (which I should have thought out beforehand!)? Will they take time away from my family? Is there someone who can do it as well (or perish the thought) better than I could?

Third, is it really my problem? There are times when we want to step up and help a friend, family member, or even a stranger who is in a bind, but there are also times when we need to say, “I would love to help, but I already have a commitment.” This is not easy for those of us who tend to be “people-pleasers.”

Fourth, turn the phrase around: “Urgent but not important.” If that doesn’t put things into perspective, nothing will.

None of these steps is easy. I know because I struggle with implementing them in my own life. The alternative is to always be at the mercy of the urgent and miss out on the important.

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