There’s a great quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower that says:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but understanding its meaning can make a huge difference in your life.
Ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut? That you’re just trying to keep your head above water? Staying busy but not really making any headway?
Ever feel like you don’t have enough time? That if you could just pause the world you could get enough breathing room to finally break free?
I think we all do at one time or another. And it’s a sign that we’re failing to remember those words – what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
Most of us focus on urgent things… after all, shouldn’t the things that need to get done soonest command the highest priority?
The answer – surprisingly enough – is usually no.
Let’s look at why that is…
#1 There’s never a shortage of urgent things. This is partially due to Parkinson’s Law (as opposed to Parkinson’s disease) which states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” That is, if we have an hour to do something, it’s likely going to take an hour. If we have two hours, it’ll probably take two.
#2 By putting off the important things, urgent things are more likely to pile up. That’s because the important, non-urgent things are things that keep our lives balanced, centered, and focused. The fewer of these positive, preventative forces in our lives, the more urgent things tend to pop up.
For example… if you’re too busy to eat right, you may wind up having an urgent doctor’s appointment. If you’re too busy to spend time with your kids, you may have an urgent visit with the school principal. And if you’re too busy to develop your mindset and skills, you’ll likely have more and more things pile up at work.
So here’s my advice to you. Try the following exercise and watch your life improve little by little:
Step #1 Think to yourself, what’s important to me and/or could improve my life but can wait until later. It could be things like working on your resume, learning to play guitar, organizing some boxes in the garage. Whatever it is, think of things that are important for your long-term wellbeing but can wait until next week or next month.
Step #2 Prioritize those things on the very top of your todo list. That’s right, put it ahead of all of the urgent things you need to do. Now this isn’t to say you shouldn’t feed the cat… but if it’s at the top of your priority list surely you can find 15 minutes to work on it TODAY.
It’s OK to start small… in fact, it’s smart… but it’s critical that you START. Clean one box on one shelf in the garage. Read 1 page of a book… do something to move the ball forward… something that isn’t just keeping your head above water. And from that one small thing grows momentum.
The bonus is that by prioritizing the non-urgent things, the urgent things will start to take less time. If I’m too busy learning a new language to take the trash out, you’d better believe I’ll still get the trash out before the garbage truck comes. I’ll just do it faster than before… because I have to.
It may seem simple… it may seem silly, but trust me. Prioritize some non-urgent, important things at the top of your list, and you’ll start chipping away at the daunting task of improving your life.