Charles Hummel was the first to coin the phrase “the tyranny of the urgent” but his thoughts have shown up in other classics like MacKenzie’s “The Time Trap” and Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Hummel presents that we often let the urgent things in life pull us away from what is actually important.
Sometimes things are both important and urgent. Clearly, those items would be the highest priority. If your house is on fire, getting the fire put out is the most important and urgent thing for you to do. Yet, we don’t often struggle with accomplishing urgent and important things. True crisis has a way of making things fall into place.
The struggle is in the things that are important but don’t necessarily need to be done today. When we put them off, we end up missing out: we lose in our jobs, relationships, health, etc. If we are not disciplined and aware, the urgent can feel a lot like a crisis. We end up spending our limited time and resources on things that demand to be done immediately, but in reality are not very important.
If we stop for a moment, we all know this. It’s not rocket science. And yet I’d venture that many if not most of us struggle and fail to some degree with letting the urgent determine how we spend our time rather than prioritizing things that are important. We either label everything as important and therefore don’t have a useful prioritization measure, or we are persuaded into action by what raises our blood pressure the fastest. Both will easily take us off course.
A great practice is to start every day and ask yourself in this _____ ( job, relationship, meeting ) what is the most important thing I can do right now? Then when something pops up that might redirect your course ( an email, phone call, meeting, event, whatever ) kindly say no. It might be as simple as making a habit of this phrase: “I’m not in a position to give this the attention it deserves right now.” Then depending on the situation, follow up with either “Please remind me about this again in x day(s)” or “I have scheduled a reminder for myself to reach out to you in x day(s) about this.”
Seems simple enough, but the proof is in the pudding. It’s important, y’know?