What We Got Wrong About The Urgent vs. Important Argument

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When I left my full-time work to pursue a lifestyle like that of a multipotentialite, I was much happier. I was this and that all at the same time – a rehab professional, a writer, a teacher, a musician. It no longer felt restrictive and limiting. The different kinds of work that I took on felt much more representative of all that I was, and gave me the opportunity to grow in areas I truly considered worthwhile.

The individualist in me finally started to rejoice at the fulfilment, or at least some attempts thereof, of its self-actualization needs.

I remember encountering the Eisenhower Urgent/Important Principle a few months before I finally decided to leave. I realized that I had allowed most of my life to be consumed with all of the urgent and none of the important. And it just wasn’t how I wanted to live my life.

I took a break for a couple of months, told myself I’d spend the time to figure things out. I must say that those two months were possibly the best and worst of my life. It was the best because I had all the time in the world for everything I considered important. It was also the worst because it was a period of transition – and I was one of those people who very seldom willingly welcomed change, and who was always utterly fazed when confronted with even the slightest hint of uncertainty. I went cold turkey. From a task-oriented choleric who worked over 70 hours each week with a constant and definite list of to-do’s, suddenly I became this “wandering generality” who didn’t know exactly what to make of life. Eventually, in an effort to give people a more meaningful answer than “I’m figuring things out” whenever they asked what it was that I did for a living, I decided to be a self-professed author who was “working on her first novel” for most of the day’s hours, and was wondering if she would make it big, or even just make it at all, the rest of the time.

Eventually, writing opportunities came my way, just as I had hoped they would. Honestly, I’m happy about that. But satisfied, probably not. Because now, my day is consumed with a brand new set of urgent to-do’s.

My lifestyle? Very, very different from before. My to-do list? Essentially just the same – filled with urgent things, just in different forms.

And so, I figured, maybe life never quite runs out of urgent things. Or, rather, maybe it’s us. Maybe we’re the ones who never quite stop pursuing them. And that’s why we revert, we relapse, and get trapped yet again in the vicious cycle of getting one urgent task done after another – always busy, but hardly ever productive.

It’s all about false security.

We all need to be hit right-smack in the face with the reality of definiteness, impermanence, and uncertainty. We’re far too quick to subscribe to the mindset that only the urgent things require immediate action. That with the urgent, there is no time to spare, there is no time for dilly-dallying. That for the urgent things, there is a fixed, immovable deadline — we only have today — but for the important things, we have the rest of our lives.

And so while it is great that many of us have shifted our priorities from the urgent to the important, perhaps we’ve unduly dichotomized the two. Maybe we’ve treated both as independently compartmentalized sets of tasks, to the point that we’ve failed to consider that although not all urgent things are important, all important things are, in fact, urgent. We’ve failed to realize that even the important things must be regarded with a true, deep sense of urgency.

So, no. You don’t have the rest of your life to do the things you consider important. As much as you only have today for the urgent things, you also just have today for the important things. Hence, the need for prioritization (which, by the way, does not merely consist of doing one thing and putting everything else off indefinitely), and possibly, a lifestyle of Essentialism.

Because here’s the gripping, honest truth: tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone.

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