July 24, 2014

Tyranny of the Urgent

This is probably the most influential book that I have never read.

The text on each page measures about 4 x 5″ and there are 29 pages. 26.5 if you don’t count the title page and publishing information. That makes it what, 3 pages long in a Word document? And yet it continues to sit, patiently on my nightstand, laughing ironically at me as I continue to pass it up for lesser activities.

But maybe it’s more powerful unread. Ever since my friend Jason mentioned this pamphlet in college, the simple title has put its hands on its hips and given me the know-it-all look several times, especially lately.

Phones, perhaps are the most notorious. There’s nothing as jarringly urgent-feeling than incoming phone call, even from a unknown number with your phone on silent. In the back of your head, you know it’s probably some soliciting company or political phone call. Yet when the thought of What if it’s important? I’ll never know if I don’t answer! What if they don’t leave a voicemail? hits, suddenly your hand reaches out to answer.

It’s never that important. And if it were, they would most likely call again. But the urgency of the situation causes us to act irrationally and to do stupid things like take our eyes off the road while driving, just to meet that urgent situation.

Here are a few other situations where I’ve been asking myself Is this important or simply urgent? The answer has been the latter way more often than I care to admit.

To be honest, it’s often not even urgent things that suck my time. It’s idle things that I ease into and get sucked into for hours– trying to clear my inbox, shopping online, naps, Facebook… this blog. So when it comes down to it, what are the important things then? For me, it comes down to one simple thing: relationships. With God. With family. With friends. I’ve always said those were my priorities, but I need to keep reminding myself to make decisions that reflect those priorities.

Eventually, I’m guessing this is the conclusion the pamphlet will point me to:

Life is happening.
Urgent: attend to my life.
Important: attend to Jesus.

…I’ll letcha know whenever I get around to reading it.

How about you? What’s something urgent, but not important that you find yourself getting caught up in?

12 responses to “Tyranny of the Urgent”

  1. jihee says:

    this was so timely! though ironically, i took a peek at it while my boys refused to eat their dinners. so true, esp these modern times with our bondage to our smartphones, too easy to get sidetracked by the “urgent.” thanks for spelling out the difference between “urgent” and important.

    • joellen says:

      LOL so funny (and honest) about how/when you read this 😉 But seriously… it’s so pervasive! I have to really be proactive about not letting myself turn to the smart phone whenever there’s a lull.

  2. Barbara Blough says:

    ALWAYS!…and I don’t have children!!! First, let’s admit that we live in a culture that overloads us. We live in a time where our choices are literally unlimited. The challenge is considerable. Not impossible, but considerable. What warning did we have? OK, that having been said, as an adult I am, in the end, responsible for my choices.

    I’m leaping here, but since I am an absolute failure at sitting quietly with myself to reach a spiritual quiet, I purposely sought out a community of people who gather at least weekly to do that in an effort to be prepared to go out in the spirit and awareness of social justice. At a gathering to honor Mary Magdaline, a fellow seeker asked us “Are we willing to remain in our emptiness, for as long as necessary to understand what we are longing for, and to receive what’s on the other side of it?”

    The essential question. Do we KNOW what we are seeking? Are we willing to open ourselves to receive an answer from deep within? Can we wait quietly enough and long enough for the answer to rise up? Are we brave enough to hear and respond to the welling up? Honestly, the scariest thing one can do. I’m still asking myself if I really want to hear the answer because then I would have to have an answer.

    I’m scared.

    • joellen says:

      Yes, choices can be sooo overwhelming. (Even Chipotle and it’s millions of options overwhelms me… haha. This is why I also like In-n-Out… where there are just a few simple good options :).)

      Thanks for sharing about your experience! Sometimes it really does take others pushing us to go in the right direction.

  3. Linda says:

    It’s summer vacation and I’m striving to get back to some devotional time in the morning. Bible reading and journaling mostly. My kids are playing in their tents. I am doing much better with my quiet time and therefore I’m doing much better as a mom. It makes a difference. I don’t come too as quickly

    • joellen says:

      We get there, we fail, and we try again… and it’s okay! Way to keep at it! Speaking of which, maybe I should advantage of the end of this nap time and do just that… :).

  4. jenn says:

    I would have to argue in favour of the nap, though. Maybe it`s because I’m an “older” Mom (had my boy at 45) but I must say, if he’s napping, I should too – I will be more present when he is awake if I am well rested… And I do so love those naps where we lie down together! And wake up together! Precious moments…

  5. Lorna says:

    Super timely reminder, thanks! I have an older iPad, which is much larger and less convenient than a smart phone… but I’ve learned with it that I’m not ready for a phone yet, for all the reasons you mentioned!
    On a slight tangent, I found this piece of writing most intriguing. Its about phones too.
    (It is an article, even though it’s on Craigslist.)

    • joellen says:

      I read that, too! I even thought about sneaking a link into this post, but didn’t. Yeah I was one of the last of my friends to cave and get a smart phone. It’s definitely changed things!