The urgent vs. the important


When I watch the nightly news, I get the impression we are witnessing crisis after crisis. California wildfires. Severe flooding in Texas and the Midwest. The latest quote from Donald Trump or Ben Carson. Terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris and Mali.

There was a hurricane in and around New Orleans 10 years ago. Does anybody remember? Only on the anniversary date, unless you live there. We’ve moved on from that crisis because of so many others. Columbine, 9/11, superstorm Sandy, Sandy Hook, Boston Marathon … and on and on.

But the scariest story I’ve heard about in a long time has nothing to do with any of those events.

In the current issue of Reader’s Digest, Kathryn Schulz writing for The New Yorker describes a potential underground earthquake in the Pacific Ocean and subsequent tsunami that could devastate Washington State and Oregon in the near (or distant) future. When it hits, the coastal residents – many of whom are elderly and not mobile – will have about a half-hour to escape to higher ground. They won’t make it, with catastrophic results.

Very few people are talking about it, much less preparing for it. Living in Ohio, I didn’t even know that fault line existed.

Which leads me to this question: Is there more to life than just living from crisis to crisis? Can we not prepare for or control anything in our lives?

Yes, we can. But we have to be intentional about it.

So says one of my favorite authors, Stephen R. Covey, in his landmark book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

In the book, Covey offers a four-quadrant matrix of the urgent (and not urgent) and important (and not important). In the urgent/important quadrant are crises, pressing problems and deadline-driven projects. These often define our daily lives.

Covey explains that we need to intentionally spend time in the important/not urgent quadrant, which includes relationship building, pursuing new opportunities, planning and recreation. We know these things are important, but we won’t make time for them unless we do it intentionally.

We can’t eliminate crises, but we can reduce their influence on us.

(Covey says we spend too much time in the urgent/not important and not urgent/not important categories, which include things like interruptions and some phone calls – he wrote this before Facebook and the Internet existed – some meetings, busy work and time wasters.)

We worry far too much about things that are not urgent:

Exhibit A: the presidential campaigns.

The Republican National Convention is July 18-21, 2016, in Cleveland. The Democratic National Convention is July 25-28, 2016, in Philadelphia. The presidential election is Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

With the rhetoric that both sides of the aisle have poured out for months already, you’d never know the conventions are still a near-full-term-pregnancy away. I’ve posted more than once on timelines: Chill. The landscape of both primaries will change dramatically in the next eight months. We aren’t voting tomorrow.

Exhibit B: the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA Championship run.

Here in northeast Ohio, sports fans are worried that several Cavs players are injured, a couple rather severely, and that the team isn’t playing with the passion that’s required to win the title.

News flash: It’s November. The NBA Finals will start June 2, 2016, and end (if there’s a game 7) on June 19. (My birthday is June 21, which also is the first day of summer. The NBA season will end before summer.)

Not-so-bold prediction: The Cavaliers will make the playoffs, which start April 16, 2016. As long as the team is healthy and in synch by then, all will be well. The Cavaliers cannot win the NBA Championship in November.

What important things are we missing because we are crisis-driven?

Exhibit A: Every year about this time, I’m amazed that those of us who live in cold-weather climates forget how to drive in snow. When that first dump of white stuff hits, far too many of us slide into ditches and each other. Every year. Will we ever take the necessary time to learn, and to pay attention to our surroundings?

Exhibit B: In Western cultures about 90 percent of us marry before age 50. In the United States, 40 percent to 50 percent of us divorce, says the American Psychological Association. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

Covey said building relationships is important but often not urgent. We need to schedule time for this in our busy lifestyles. Many of us don’t do nearly enough of this.

Exhibit C: We get so caught up in Black Friday sales and presents under the tree, we forget “the reason for the season.” We’re so busy with holiday parties and shopping and jobs and visiting each side of our family, that we don’t take time to celebrate the people we’re with, or the baby in the manger.

Like Santa Claus, it seems that we try to cram the entire month of December into one night.

Exhibit D: We forget that the world doesn’t revolve around us. We offer a token donation to the local food bank or clothing drive or a check in the church offering plate to appease our conscience in December. Then, we go our merry way and forget that such needs persist year-round.

What is important to you? Do you make time for it?

Let’s each of us take time to answer this question for ourselves. Then, let’s take even more time to actually do something about it.

We might have to give up something unimportant or even let go of some of our crises to find that time. But, by definition, if it’s important, it’s worth doing.



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