The Urgent vs. the Important
By Jill Savage
We’re in a solitaire playoff at the Savage household. I recently taught my youngest two sons to play solitaire and now it is their card game of choice. Last night they asked if we could play a couple of games before bedtime. In the past I might have said, “Not tonight. Mom’s got too much to do.” But not last night–last night my answer was “Yes! Let’s play!”
What made the difference? It was a conscious decision to choose the important over the urgent.
Everyday the urgent things in life scream for our attention: phone calls, email, and household chores. At the same time the important things wait quietly in the background: a date with our spouse, a story read to a child, or a teenager who needs his parent’s full attention. The urgent is usually task-oriented, while the important is people focused.
When we choose the urgent over the important we send a message that tasks are more important than people and relationships.
Conquering the urgent requires that we identify the demands that steal our focus and time. Once identified, we have to choose to manage the demands but not be controlled by them. We also have to make conscious decisions to choose the important over the urgent each and every day.
Evaluate how you are doing by answering these questions:
Do you think you need to answer the phone every time it rings?
Do you answer the phone during family meals?
Do you find yourself saying to your kids, “I’ll help you in just a minute. Let me finish this email.” ?
Do you frequently say, “Not now. Maybe later.”?
Do you tell your spouse that you have too much to do to go out on a date or spend time talking?
Are your favorite television shows robbing you of playing a game with your children?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you probably need to take an honest look at your priorities and make a serious effort to choose the important over the urgent. Here are some suggestions for making some changes:
Phone: When talking with your spouse or children, don’t answer the phone. If you are reading a story to your child and the phone rings, let the voice mail or answering machine take a message, then return the call at a time that is convenient for you. Our family has taken this one step further by signing up for a “distinctive ring” service through the phone company. When a family member dials our distinctive ring number, the phone rings with a special ring. When someone calls our regular phone number, the phone rings normally. This way we know if the call is important or urgent by the sound of the ring. It assures that if a spouse or children call, the phone will be answered.
Email: Do your best to answer email during a time when you are needed by others the least. This might mean rising thirty minutes earlier in the morning rather than sitting down at the computer after dinner. If you absolutely must do email while the family is active, be prepared to stop frequently and attend to the needs of your spouse or children without telling them you’ll be with them in “just a minute.”
Television: If at all possible, refrain from watching television unless you can do so as a family or tape your favorite shows and watch them at a time that the children are in bed. Don’t make the mistake of counting television viewing as a valid option for quality time with your spouse unless it is a choice you make together. Choose entertainment options that include your spouse and children rather than exclude them.
To Do List: Rather than taking the martyr approach, include the family in chores such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This gives opportunity for team building in the family. When our list drives us, we’re focused on the urgent. When our relationships drive us, we’re focused on the important.
Life is a constant tug of war between the urgent and the important. When we’re blind to it there will be consequences of broken or strained relationships. Make a fresh start today by evaluating the urgent things in your life and making them secondary to the important people in your life.
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