Tyranny of the Urgent


“Tyranny of the Urgent”, is that any way to leave Christmas? The food, the gifts, the friends, and family, have been unwrapped and enjoyed. This is a week to relax. And yet, the New Year comes. New or similar tasks and challenges await in 2017 as were experienced in 2016. The urgent never ends.


I hate to burst the Christmas afterglow bubble, but there is a solution. Prioritize! We can never do everything we feel we need to do. At the end of life’s journey we can, however, proclaim as Jesus did that he had completed everything his heavenly Father had given him to do. Really? For every ten persons whose sight he restored there were thousands more. The key is that Jesus did everything God asked him to do, not everything that needed to be done.


In the “Tyranny of the Urgent” Charles E. Hummel writes, “Several years ago an experienced cotton mill manager said to me, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” He didn’t realize how hard his maxim hit.” Rarely does the important have to be done this minute. Unlike the phone ringing, the need to write a thank you, call an aging parent or old friend, play with the kids, go out on a date with your spouse, or spend time alone with God can wait. It does not have to be accomplished today or even this week.


Stephen Covey outlines four time management quadrants in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The top left quadrant is where time is spent on Urgent/Important tasks; for example hiring a new employee or getting the car fixed before you leave next week on vacation. Living in this quadrant is constant fire fighting which leads to a stress filled life and eventual burnout.


The bottom left quadrant bears the label of Urgent/Not Important tasks such as answering the phone/door or checking email. Too much time spent here will make a person feel victimized and out of control. The bottom right quadrant is named Not Urgent/Not Important for using time, lots of time in Facebook, talking at the water cooler at work, playing video games, etc. Irresponsibility and dependence on others are identifying characteristics of those who major living in this quadrant.


The top right quadrant is where Covey encourages people who want to be successful and significant to spend most of their time, Not Urgent/Important. Here is where visions are cast, plans laid, and follow-up accomplished toward raising children, building friendships, becoming the type of person you yearn to be, and attaining goals such as a college education, starting your own business or retiring financially secure.


When Greenwalt was president of DuPont, he said, “One minute spent in planning saves three or four minutes in execution.” The habit of spending time Friday afternoon planning the next week is common. Jesus used the principle long ago. He rose “early in the morning” and “withdrew to a solitary place” in order to hear God’s plans for his life. Jesus remarked he did only what he saw his Father in heaven do. We may not be able to say that this side of heaven, but we can take long strides down that path!


Note that Jesus did not prioritize everything he wanted to do for God. He only did what God directed him to do. That meant part of his planning time was spent deciding what not to do.


Begin by setting aside at least five minutes a day to hear God’s voice through Bible reading and prayer. Once a week set aside an hour to experience His presence, power, direction and encouragement in the company of others through worship. Begin the year with at least a three-hour prayer retreat. Many churches offer them in January or you can plan your own. Google St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen, the Navigators Half-Day of Prayer, or contact your pastor for suggestions and guidance.


Hummel said, “When we fail to wait prayerfully for God’s guidance and strength we are saying, with our actions, if not our lips, that we do not need Him. How much of our service is characterized by “going it alone”?

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