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 really is one of the major components of success.
Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut? That you’re treading 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.
But what does that really mean? Let’s dig in.
Most of us focus on urgent things. Things that seem like they need to be done ASAP. After all, shouldn’t the things that need to be done soonest command the highest priority? It seems blatantly obvious.
But there are a couple of problems with that way of thinking.
1) There’s never a shortage of urgent things. This is partially due to Parkinson’s Law which states that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. 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 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 often preventative… they’re just what we need to keep our lives balanced, centered, and focused.
So, ironically, by focusing on urgent things, we’re actually causing more urgent things to pop up because we’re neglecting the important things that “can wait”.
You see, those things that can wait are the very things that should never be put off. Just because they don’t HAVE to be done right this moment doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.
It’s in the doing of those things that you don’t have to do in which real progress is achieved. And if you take the time to do them, the urgent things will stop piling up. Your life will become simpler, more deliberate, and more within your control. Best of all, you’ll make real, lasting progress.
But if urgent things are what we naturally focus on, how can we switch focus to the important things that we’ve been putting off?
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 but can wait until next week or next month.
Step 2) Prioritize that thing 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 you’ll always find time to do those things… they can wait until after your new, non-urgent top priority. And if it’s a longer project or habit you’d like to form, time bound it to 15 minutes. If it’s at the top of your priority list surely you can find 15 minutes to work on it TODAY.
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. Suddenly Parkinson’s Law becomes an asset rather than a liability.
It really is that simple. Prioritize the non-urgent, important things at the top of your list, time bound them to 15 minutes so you don’t get overwhelmed, and do it! You’ll start chipping away at the daunting task of improving your life.
And if you can take just one small step forward every single day… imagine how great your life will be over the long haul.
Don’t wait… give it a try today, and stick with it. Soon enough you’ll see the power in focusing on what really matters.