Years ago, I read a short book published in 1967 by Charles Hummel called Tyranny of the Urgent. A man ahead of his time, Hummel describes the tension between two contestants battling for our attention: the urgent and the important.
He argues that the urgent things—deadlines at the office, the demands of other people, and even our own “inner compulsions”—typically trump those things which are most important—regular dates with our spouse, time with our kids, personal solitude, exercise, or meditation (just to name a few).
With incredible depth of insight, he notes that important things are polite; they do not clamor for our attention. They wait patiently for us to act. The urgent, on the other hand, boldly cry out impatiently for our time.
In the long run there is a price to pay for the neglect of the important stuff. Like a volcano, there comes a day when the neglected areas of our life explode and wreak havoc. Ironically, we wonder how we missed the warning signs.
One temptation in life is to say, “Well, I just didn’t have enough time to do everything.” But, most frequently, this lack of time is merely a problem of setting appropriate priorities. As Lao Tzu said, “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to’.”
Today, deciphering the difference between the important and the urgent is even more difficult. David Goodman, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine sums it up well, “We are being flooded with so much information, we can’t selectively filter out quickly which is important and which is not important.”
For me, becoming minimalist has always been about more than removing physical belongings. It is also the intentional promotion of the things I most value. It is about deciding what is most important in my life and removing the things that distract me from it. It is about removing the urgent for the sake of the important.
I still have the small book from 40-something years ago entitled “The Tyranny of The Urgent.” Thank you for the reminder. The phrase itself is powerful. An old aunt use to say if it says hurry it’s of the devil.
Here is something I once heard that beautifully compliments Joshua’s posting: “When god made time, he made enough of it.”
(p.s. I’m not a religious person)
Ever notice how a person or family runs constantly and the all of a sudden they are all majorly sick at most inopportune time….body and souls way of saying SLOW DOWN….
One of the best post, even the photo of the waves are hitting home today. Preparing for a simpler, less cluttered lifestyle. People can either get onboard with me or get left alongside the tracks, cuz the train is leaving the depot.
I’ve had to learn to say….Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
This is spot on. Thank you! I’ve been trying to achieve the minimalist lifestyle for a while now, and am slowly getting there. I can see the progress and it’s beginning to pay off. Recently I noticed that what our $ are going to are memories and times spent with our loved ones, and each other. I also love this post because it lines up with the frustration I have felt lately of “someone else’s lack of planning and emergency does NOT need to become my emergency.” The decision to bow out of events, tasks and other things that don’t add quality to your life seems to hurt others, at times, but it is important to stick to those choices. Time is a created thing… excellent thing to remember each day.
Huge A-Ha post for me.
I was having an internal struggle with how to Elevate Important things when I have daily things that need to be done. I realise it is about simply prioritising what contributes to Elevating the Important things.
Pay attention to the big stones – those who truly count.
The rest is just sand.
Elli Michler (1923-2014)
Which are your big stones?
Bob Pepe says
I have to say that the urgent, ran my life for years. As I hit 50 I discovered that the important far outweighs anything that we label urgent..
My wife and I wanted to take up golf, but I said the “I just don’t have time to leave the office for a round of golf”…. Well, guess what? I do have time.. I now leave the office at noon on Fridays and we play a round of golf. I put it in my calendar and it is booked!! My job is fine, life goes on without me for a few hours… and I am finally taking care of what is “Important”.
This is life.. not a dress rehearsal… I worked 60+ hours a week for 30 years and I am overweight, stressed out, in debt…. all because I am taking care of the urgent instead of the important….
That is changing now and Joshua and the people on this Website are all partially responsible and for that I will be forever thankful
Jody Stevenson says
Such a need for all of us today. I love to read, but I can think I need to read everything..blogs, books, articles and just keep collecting information. Huge distraction. With our phones in our pockets and alerts on our phones we are rarely really quiet to sort out our priorities. However, it is the way to really live life – enjoy the moments! Thanks Joshua.
Great post Joshua. Simple message with powerful quotes. Thanks for sharing such an important message.
Camilla Hallstrom says
Great post, Joshua! This is a much more important topic than many realize. Many (myself included) excuse ourselves to do those important, crucial things by referring to lack of time (love that Lao Tzu quote by the way) – and then we never do them. This, again, leads to unhappiness and eventually burnout. For me, the Eisenhower Matrix/Box has helped me get structure in how I prioritize tasks and I’ll continue applying it. :)
Bethany @ Online Therapy and Coaching says
I’ve learned that nothing is ever as urgent as it seems. I recently visited a friend’s house, and she said, “Well, I was going to clean before you came over, but we decided to get together with some friends instead. Because I know you came here to see us, not our house.”
It was nice to get this in my inbox this morning. I made the mistake of ignoring the signs and am now having to deal with the volcano… I’m 36, have a career and a family and all the associated stress that goes along with that. I neglected myself and my own dreams to play the various roles people expect of me and one day recently it all became to much. Now I find myself trying to manage a panic disorder and get my life back on track (whilst still having to deal with the stress!). I’ve re-established my daily meditation practice and make time each day just to go out and walk and explore my surroundings. It is a daily struggle at the moment but simplifying life is very much an important step and reducing the amount of things I need to focus on seems to help. It’s nice to know that I am not alone in trying to find a balance.
Scott, I wish you well :) If you are of faith, before your feet even hit the floor each day, place it in the hands of God. You’d be surprised how easy it is to cope knowing that God is working behind the scenes on your behalf. It really helps.
Thanks for posting Scott. I do not know your personal circumstances, but I am in the midst of ending relationships so that I can get back to my self which I neglected in favor of trying to be something else for others.
I think an article on this would be great. Navigating relationships that do not align with ourselves.
Eric Ungs says
So beautifully true. With being a young father, I have to step back almost daily, to slow down, and realize that these very moments, the moments I’ve dreamt about and have been waiting for, can quickly pass me by if I’m not intentional about being present with my kids. And that means focusing my time and energy on the things that matter most, my family. Often times we find ourselves valuing one thing and focusing on another – busyness, the urgent. Excellent reminder.
You inspire me to live life in a way I never knew possible. Thanks for your consistent loving posts, they are changing lives, including mine.
Daisy @ Simplicity Relished says
“Tyranny of the urgent”– I love that phrase. I’ve definitely experienced the rush and pressure that comes from an email about a sale that’s ending– and then realized that the marketing ploy had totally worked on me.
Wow…how wonderfully refreshing to read. Thanks for giving me permission to elevate what’s important. Sometimes that is all it takes…
I train in the workplace, and from time to time, I’ve had the opportunity to use the four-quadrant Urgent/Important matrix as a tool for prioritization (used by Eisenhower and made famous by Covey). When I asked participants to map a typical day, everything, and I mean everything, fell into the Urgent side of the diagram. I loved the idea of giving your task list some time and space so that the Important things that are “waiting politely” have an opportunity to come forward.
Vicki Cook says
Yes, I find the urgent/important matrix extremely helpful in determining what to focus on. Otherwise your day/life can get sucked up by urgent/not important tasks that don’t get you any closer to your goals.
Wow this is such a great post! The important things are quiet – they don’t cry out for attention like the urgent things do. That’s so interesting and true. Exercise and meditation being two that most people tend to push aside when life gets busy – even though those are the two that are the most important for health, and mental sanity.
Thank you for the beautiful words.
“It is about removing the urgent for the sake of the important.”
Love this line. I should tattoo this on my forearm. Along, with Be Present. :)
Yes! There is a co-worker of mine that always talks about not moving with the same sense of urgency as everyone else. I envy him most days. :-)
Indeed! Simplification is a process of simplifying our lives, not just our stuff.
That Lao Tzu quote says it perfectly. That tidbit of wisdom, that saying I don’t have time is saying I don’t want to, will sit with me for a long time.
Bravo! This so describes my workplace, and I also see that I give into the urgent in my daily life. Great post, Joshua.
Dan Garner says
:) Wonderful. If we take this deeper, we will hit the marrow of life – life is choice and every choice matters – deeply. The culmination of one’s choices over a lifetime make a huge difference. What will your life represent?
I love that picture, Joshua. I’m always drawn to water…especially waves. Your post is right on! Hug the kids—pet the puppies—and whistle to the birdies! Care and love. —The bills will always be there, but none of US are promised tomorrow. God bless.
I heard recently that when you don’t have the time then what you’re really saying is that its not a priority. I like that. Its true.
Juho Vepsäläinen says
That’s a very valid point. Incidentally Chuck Blakeman uses the same idea for discussing business maturity. It’s easy to end up doing all those urgent things while forgetting all about important. Focusing on those important ones might make some of the urgency disappear.
Prioritization is of essence. You’ll have to learn to say no. It’s so easy to lose the big picture and focus on immediate gains. Perhaps this is something driven by culture.
Meryl @ Simple Family Home says
Thanks for this food for thought, very timely for me today. I know my focus for tomorrow will be on what’s important – and pushing those distractions away.