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:
- Important/Urgent – These are crisis we come across, pressing problems, deadline-driven projects, meetings, reports
- Important/Not Urgent – This is the quadrant of preparation, prevention, planning, relationship building, re-creation, and values clarification
- 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
- 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.”