Home life, Try this at home, Writing

Important and Not Urgent

antique clock

Last year, I finally got around to reading Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It took me ages. Although this book came out almost 30 years ago, there was still a waitlist at my local library.  Once I finally got a copy, it took me a surprisingly long time to read. I found it to be incredibly soothing– too soothing, obviously–because I kept nodding off every time I sat down to read it. In the meantime, I was moderately effective at best. 🙂

Still, this book is a modern classic in the personal development world for a reason. While there were many insightful ideas, the concept that stuck with me most was that of the time management model.

Mr. Covey divides our activities into four quadrants:

  • Urgent and important
  • Important and not urgent
  • Urgent and not important
  • Not urgent and not important

From a productivity standpoint, we want to minimize the last two types of tasks.  Essentially, if it’s not important, don’t make it a priority. The first item here, urgent and important, will usually be dealt with in a timely manner because of its urgency. Think crying baby and kitchen fire. However, that second item, not urgent and important, can easily slip off the radar because it lacks urgency. Covey argues that when it comes to reaching goals, especially personal and long term goals, this is a key area to focus on.

Many times, aspects of our health and well-being fall into the “important and not urgent” quadrant– think exercise, healthy food, hobbies, rest, reflection, and relationships. All of these things are important, but because they often lack a clear, built-in deadline, they lack urgency. If something can happen at any time, it might never happen. It is so easy to shuffle our important/not urgent activities to the end of the queue. This is how it often works with our interests and passions– we could pursue them anytime and they feel important to us, but many times we simply don’t devote our time to them. We postpone them until some vague time in the future.

I’m convinced that life’s magic lives in the “important and not urgent” quadrant. However, it can be hard to shift our attention to those things that we feel are important, but, in theory, could be done at any time. Sometimes the urgency is what gets us moving.

This is something I’m working on– making those activities in my life that are truly important to me more of a priority. Here are some ideas that have helped me:

  • Set priorities. What is it that is important to you that you tend to have trouble making time for? If it’s important to you, it deserves a place of honor on your to-do list.
  • Write it down. When I write down my priorities and then consider how I’m actually using my time, the disconnect becomes more apparent.
  • Put it on the calendar. If I put it on the calendar, it is about a 1000 times more likely to happen.
  • Do it first. These days, if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, it probably won’t happen. Likewise, I am more likely to write if I do it early in the day than if I wait to see “if I have time.” The truth of the matter is that there is always more I could be doing. I have an artist friend who says she feels more creative when her house is organized and spotless. I get that, but I also know that waiting for the perfect circumstances can be a dangerous trap. My house might not ever be perfectly organized and spotless.
  • Set measurable goals. Sometimes having quantifiable goals can help you feel accountable. For instance, write X number of pages a week, exercise for 20 minutes, three times a week.

Do you have trouble making time in your life for those activities that are important to you, but not urgent? If so, what strategies do you use to hold yourself accountable?

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