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. firefly says:

    I am reading this on my laptop, scrolling down with one finger because the other four are holding a peanut butter sandwich. The other hand is busy breaking off tiny pieces of the sandwich and feeding my 11 month old baby, who is content munching (gumming) away with an occasional smile from mum.

    … yeah, urgent and important are really difficult to separate for me. I find it almost impossible to stop myself looking at my phone when I have a quiet moment… and that inevitably turns into 30+ minutes of web browsing while I neglect my kids.

    One thing I’ve found useful is to make a little box that my phone goes in on the kitchen table or somewhere central (so I can grab it if an important call or text comes through). Poking out of the box (so that you can read it when you reach for the phone) is an index card which says “She manages the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (from Proverbs 31). Looking at that verse as I reach for my phone and taking the time to evaluate if I’m going to do something useful (make a call) as opposed to idle (play Candy Crush or read Facebook) has been really helpful.

    The baby is getting annoyed at me typing instead of feeding her… gotta go do something urgent!

    • joellen says:

      Hahaha thanks for painting the picture for me :). It sounds lovely and real and very much like mommyhood today! Your phone box is a great idea! For one, maybe I wouldn’t be constantly running around the house looking for my phone… ;). But yes, that’s also a great reminder! Thanks for sharing!