The Difference Between Urgent and Important

In my last post I discussed the fact that leaders understand the difference between need to do and nice to do activities.

Effective leaders also understand the huge difference between what’s merely urgent and what’s truly important. Those urgent things are frequently less productive, and often matter far less, than the important things. 

President Eisenhower said, “The urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent.” That statement led Charles Hummel to publish a small booklet in the 1960’s entitled, The Tyranny of the Urgent

In it, he described the tension that exists between the urgent and important things in life and the fact that far too often, the urgent wins. Sometimes the urgent things are also important but very often they are not.

So what about you? Are you running around doing urgent things all day or are the things you do truly important? If you’re like most people, yes sadly most people get caught in the trap of urgency, you’re in such a rush to “get it done” that you don’t really stop to separate, or prioritize the urgent things from the important things. 

What’s more important, a conversation about school, life or their choice of friends with your kids or an empty email inbox? The emails may be urgent but the kids are important, for most of us, our kids are by far the most important aspect of our lives. Yet we stay at the office that extra hour to try and “get through a few more emails” while our kids, those incredibly, unbelievably, positively, absolutely important kids are waiting at home. 

If that happens to you then you are a victim of the tyranny of the urgent. 

If that happens to you then I’ll also bet you just use that always popular time excuse. You think that saying “I just don’t have the time” let’s you off the hook. You’re not responsible, it’s not your fault, it’s just “stuff” getting in the way of you doing what’s really important. 

Wrong! 

You’re not going to like hearing this but the fact is, you don’t suffer from a lack of time, you suffer from a lack of prioritization skills. Or, you just never slow down enough to truly prioritize. The challenge for many of us is that we just don’t often invest the time to consider what really matters to us, we just rush through life doing what’s put in front of us without considering what’s left behind.

I understand that you likely can’t get everything done that you would like to; that’s just a fact of life in the world in which most of us live. But that’s not an excuse for not prioritizing, it’s the very reason you should. 

At some point you’re just going to have to stop the madness, shut down the distractions and make yourself ignore the “urgent” stuff long enough to truly consider what’s important in your life. Just stop once in a while to determine if you’re running your life or if your life is running you. 

You may not be able to get it all done but you sure as heck can get the truly important stuff done, you just have to be aware of what’s really important in your life. 

 

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