The Time Downward Spiral

I recently read the following statement from an Anonymous writer: “Because we don’t know what is really important to us, everything seems important. Because everything seems important, we have to do everything. Other people, unfortunately, see us as doing everything, so they expect us to do everything. Doing everything keeps us so busy, we don’t have time to think about what is really important to us.” The book where I took this statement from calls this “The Runaround Dilemma”. I call it “The Downward Spiral”. The two definitions may be similar for all intents and purposes. However, I see some differences.

The runaround dilemma is very clear. We get so imbued in the busy-ness of life that we lose focus and gradually, we also lose perspective. It’s like running around a circle. After running so much you are assailed by a thought of loss, a sentiment that “I’ve been here before”, in fact a feeling of desperation, which increases if we continue running around. In addition, this feeling creates a sense of un-fulfillment and lack of purpose. Without a clear course in mind, it’s very easy to be swayed by everybody’s opinion.

My approach to the dilemma is that, if left unattended, it will become a dangerous downward spiral. To use the words of the great German author, philosopher and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “things which matter most must be never at the mercy of things which matter least.” Time is precious. Benjamin Franklin said “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of.” Having said all that, we should ponder over the meaning of the words “important” and “urgent” and appreciate the differences between the two. Important, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “of much import, carrying with it serious consequences; weighty, momentous, grave, and significant.” Urgent, on the other end, means “pressing, compelling; calling for or demanding immediate action; anything characterized by urgency.” Too many times, we confuse important and urgent and we are lead to believe that which is urgent is always important. Nothing is so far from the truth. Certainly some urgent things are not important and so is the opposite. What do we need to do then?

First of all let’s make an inventory of what is urgent and not urgent, but more so of what is important and not important. Stephen Covey put all this in a Time Matrix of 4 quadrants where the quadrants are divided according to priority. This is the quadrants’ division:

  1. Important/Urgent – These are crisis we come across, pressing problems, deadline-driven projects, meetings, reports
  2. Important/Not Urgent – This is the quadrant of preparation, prevention, planning, relationship building, re-creation, and values clarification
  3. Not Important/Urgent – These are needless interruptions, unnecessary reports, unimportant meetings, some phone calls, some mail and some e-mails, and other people’s minor issues
  4. Not Important/Not Urgent – Trivia, busywork, irrelevant phone calls, mail and e-mail, time-wasters, “escape” activities, excessive TV, internet and relaxation.

We can’t do much about quadrant 1, especially when the boss comes in our office and asks to prepare a report for later in the afternoon. But if we spent more time in quadrant 2, many crises would be avoided and the pressing problems would really become routine. The stress, in other words, would leave space to a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Try! If we think of firefighters and how much time they spend in quadrant 2, then we can appreciate their reaction in the face of crisis. Become the firefighter of your life. Set aside more time to plan and prepare, to create balance in your life, and the downward spiral will become a more normal journey through beautiful peaks and valleys.

To finish with a quote, Hyrum Smith stated: “When your daily activities are in concert with your highest priorities, you have a credible claim to inner peace.”



About alby59

Alberto has a 25-year plus career in Local Government which began as City Manager in Italy. He currently serves as Chief Administrative Officer for the District of Lake Country in beautiful Central Okanagan BC. In addition, Alberto is Adjunct Professor to the Political Science Department of the University of Northern British Columbia and teaches a variety of local government related courses. He has developed a series of lectures on Leadership and Ethics and is designing a Project Management course aimed at Local Government and public sector practitioners. Very active in both his professional and academic life, Alberto has served as President of the Local Government Management Association of BC and the Association of Records Management Administrators of BC and Yukon. He also served as member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Tsunami Recovery Committee for the reconstruction of communities and local governments in Sri Lanka and Indonesia hit by the 2004 Tsunami and managed an FCM capacity building program with the City of San Fernando, La Union in the Philippines while with the Township of Langley. Alberto has earned facilitator certifications with Franklin Covey and Cognitive Edge, and continues to foster his interest in personal education and professional development. He is an avid reader, music lover, and science fiction movie aficionado. He plays guitar and piano for fun and sings with his wife and his children. He is also very active in his church and community being a former Rotarian and currently serving as the Second Counselor in the Thompson Okanagan (Vernon Stake) Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, his most important interest is his family: his wife Silvana and their two children Victor and Grace.
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3 Responses to The Time Downward Spiral

  1. Roberto Cassone says:

    Caro Alberto,
    ho letto con interesse questo tuo “pensiero” seppur il tuo inglese “cattedratico” spesso mi ha lasciato qualche lacuna. Un po qua e un po la sono infin giunto alla fine del tuo ragionamento condividendolo per buona parte. Condivido che la confusione tra i termini importante e urgente infine genera “cattive posture” nella vita e nel suo porsi ma spesso tutti noi dobbiamo nel quotidiano affrontare sempre delle “urgenze”.
    Credo che la vita sia dai più vissuta senza una vera “pianificazione” delle esigenze e delle aspettative. Ogni mattina che il buon Dio manda su questa meravigliosa terra c è un uomo che si alza, si infila le scarpe ed inizia a correre…non importa se è gazzella o leone…lui corre!!!
    Credo che la vita non debba, non possa essere improvvisata, altrimenti si corre il rischio di vivere sempre in clima di “urgenze” anche per le cose piu banali! Diviene urgente comprare il latte(perchè è finito..e dimmi se il latte per i bambini non è importante) diventa urgente terminare la reazione per il Boss, rispondere al telefono al meccanico perchè la macchina è improvvisamente guasta e urgente trovare un buon falegname prchè sta cadendo il tetto!!!
    Noi militari chiamiamo questo “alambicco mentale” come il problema delle “reasonable sourses” che consiste nel pianificare quante più operazioni attribuendo loro una priorità ( ad es. 1,2,3). Priorità 1 è l’equivalente di “vitale” priorità 2 come di “compromettente” priorità 3 “da adempiere per l’efficenza generale”.
    Questo in ascissa…
    In ordinata ascrivi le “urgenze” ovvero con scala da 1 a 2 (stavolta) urgenza 1 (esigenza assolutamente imprevista e vitale – pericolo di vita per se ed altri) urgenza 2 (esigenza imprevista-pericolo di danni a cose o perdita di denaro o materiali)
    Se fai questa semplice operazione vedrai come le cose cambiano d’aspetto si potranno avere priorità 3 e urgenza 1 o priorità 1 come urgenze 2. In tutti i casi una buona pianificazione della vita quotidiana ti porterà alla fine ad avere tutte priorità 3 ed urgenza 0(zero) avendo perfettamente (o quasi) pianificato il proprio tenore di vita e le aspettative di vita e lavoro…
    Naturalmente il “quasi” è d’obbligo, ben conoscendo quanto sia “femmineo” il fato nel mettere sempre il suo dispettuccio, mandando a carte 48 ogni più accurata pianificazione.
    Grazie dell’attenzione e spero di non essere stato tedioso.
    vi voglio bene

  2. JP Tremblay says:

    I like how you incorporate very good quotes from important people. Keep up the good work.


  3. Youre completely right on this writing..

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