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.