The Important vs. The Urgent

Another last-minute blog post this morning; these things happen, folks. As a friend of mine puts it, “Life happens,” and life can be messy. What on Earth could possibly keep me from remembering to do something so important as write for you fine people every Monday and Thursday morning? Allow me to share. Perhaps you can relate.

The Important

I have made this blog a scheduled priority for the last couple years to discipline myself to have something to share twice a week–that’s about the limit of my creativity. I consider this work important because it is a commitment akin to teaching, which for reasons that elude me is usually not an honored or well-paid position in this country. Suffice to say: people teach because they love it, not because they’re looking to get rich or famous. I’ve been sick, I’ve been out of town, and yes, I’ve just plain forgotten until the last minute like this morning, but I always show up because this task is important to me.

I call my parents every Sunday to check in and see how they’re doing. I started doing that around 15 years ago, when I lived far away from them both and needed that close connection in a lonely place. That was and is important to me, so I keep doing it unless travel or other commitments prevent, then I reschedule the calls. But I always make the calls.

Once a month, I get paid by my primary customer and from that pay ensure that the necessities of my life are paid for: home, car, utilities, savings. These items are necessary for me to maintain life and limb. Those things are important and must be done or I’d be out on the street. The bills get paid, on time or early, because they’re important.

I take time out to consume food and drink that will sustain my body. This, too, is an important necessity. Even better, I’m making a mid-life effort to consume things that are actually good for me, not mere high-energy, high-fat fuel for the next round of chaotic living. Eating is important, healthy eating has become important, so I’m trying to make the effort.

Recently I’ve been trying something wild like courting a significant other. Having been single for the better part of 49 years, I am suddenly and joyfully discovering the value of having a partner with whom to share my life. Regardless of where she is (and she is at a distance at the moment), I make–preferably uninterrupted, non-working–time for her every day because her continued presence and support are necessary for my personal happiness and well-being. It’s important, I make the time.

I must do my paid work, which keeps the money flowing and the overall life together. I must do it well and on time so I remain employed. Again, it’s important, it must be done.

I’ve learned the value of time off, to walk or read or relax or do nothing. Working all the time scrambles my brain after a while. I make the time to walk daily, get at least 7 hours of sleep, and otherwise not work because it’s important for my physical and mental health.

The Urgent

The “urgent” things are the one-off situations or emergencies as well as the optional, fun activities that can interrupt the important. A friend drops in from out of town, and so a smaller, unpaid task gets put off or the laundry must wait another day.

A doctor’s appointment or medical procedure comes up that requires temporary anesthesia–no work gets done that day, sorry.

A friend gets into a car accident or has a personal crisis or needs me to mind the desk at their business while they take care of something else. Given my availability, I’ll handle those to help out that friend.

A client calls with a new, last-minute assignment. Odds are, they need it right away, even at the expense of other work I’m doing for them at the moment. It happens. The urgent (time-sensitive) often trumps the important.

When to Push Back Against the Urgent

You might be a duty-focused creature as I have been and believe that every request must be handled at the moment you receive it. That’s not entirely true. If a customer comes to you with an assignment outside of office hours, you might be at dinner or sleeping or spending time with your significant other. Are there times when that request must be handled immediately? Certainly. And on those occasions you face the unpleasant task of dragging yourself out of bed or informing your dinner companion or significant other that you have to take a call or handle a work task.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking very hard about the Tyranny of the Urgent, and I’m slowly learning to push back. Every person and every situation is different, but if your personal priorities are in order, you make the time for what’s important before those things become so bent out of shape (from responding too often to the urgent) that they, too, become urgent and well-nigh irreparable.

So while, yes, it’s important to be responsive as a professional, it’s also important that you be responsive to your own life and the people and responsibilities abiding therein. If you understand what’s important, the urgent doesn’t feel nearly so urgent anymore.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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