Urgent vs. Important

If you are even remotely interested in personal development, you probably know the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. It’s a modern self-help classic. With that being said, I really don’t like the book. It uses lots of wishy-washy words like “purpose,” “integrity,” “responsibility,” etc. that are just meant to make the reader feel important and pumped up while hardly conveying any real meaning. This vague, ambiguous text goes hand in hand with several references to how you have to be law-abiding proper Christian in order to be become more successful in life… Do I need to say more?

Despite these shortcomings, there is one thing I DID learn from the book, and that is the difference between urgency and importance. In essence, all of us tend to overvalue tasks that have a certain urgency attached to them, be it a deadline or just someone standing in front of us and engaging with us. We feel a strong urge to react to these tasks on the spot, making them our priority without questioning their real value to us. In contrast, we tend to put off our more important tasks – projects that could truly change our life for the better, but yet come with no urgency.

In short: Everything pressing gets priority, everything important never gets done.

This is a recipe for disaster. We can waste our lives away, never even touching on our important projects, just being slaves to the urgent. At its core, it’s a vicious cycle: What makes the urgent so compelling is the emotional instant gratification that goes with it. You take care of an urgent task and you right away feel better – it’s like a weight being lifted off your chest. On the contrary, tackling a truly important task is almost always a long-term project, so there is no instant gratification to be enjoyed. On top of that, it forces you to further ignore these ever pressing urgent tasks, adding to the uncomfortable feeling.

There is no way around it though: You need to learn foregoing the urgent for the important. If you do that, you stand a chance at successful self-actualization. If you don’t, you become just another lemming.

This is exactly where habit building comes in. Habit building, done right, translates to making all your important tasks a DAILY, NON-EXCHANGEABLE part of your life. The habit becomes to represent the daily building block for your important project, that potentially life-changing effort, and as such, ALWAYS takes precedence over any of your urgent tasks. So, if you want to become a master guitar player, your 3 hours of focused daily practice are sacrosanct to you. Nothing, at all, can change that.

This is a massive shift in perspective. Urgent changes nothing for the better, but important does. However, it only does if you act accordingly, every single day. Habits are the placeholders for these important matters in your life, the incremental chipping away at the seemingly impossible, until one day, you have eaten the elephant. If you keep you foregoing the important, i.e. your habits, in favour of the urgent, i.e. the random problems life throws at you, you are a lost cause. And Stephen Covey and I don’t want you to be a lost cause.

Until next time.