Hummel quotes an old cotton mill manager who told him, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” In other words, just because something has to be done right away (urgent) doesn't mean that it lines up with your highest priorities (important). Hummel goes on to say:
We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with the non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action---endless demands pressure every hour and day ... The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy. But in the light of time’s perspective their deceptive prominence fades; with a sense of loss we recall the important task pushed aside. We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.OUCH! I know that "sense of loss" all too well.
Later, Stephen Covey put the whole idea of "urgent but not important," "important but not urgent," etc. into a matrix:
Quadrant 2 contains activities that are important -- meaning they align with your most deeply held values -- but not urgent -- meaning they don't have to be done right away. And here's the thing: The more time you spend in Quadrant 2, the less time you will spend in Quadrants 1, 3, and 4.
A great example from my own life is sermon prep. My Sunday messages are definitely important. And if it's Thursday or Friday and I don't have a message prepared, then it's important and urgent. Suddenly I'm in Quadrant 1, and I'm stressed out and in a hurry. And when I'm stressed out and in a hurry, I don't think as clearly, the creative juices don't flow, it's harder to hear God's voice, and it actually ends up taking longer to prepare Sunday's message.
But what if I carve out some Quadrant 2 time and plan sermons six or eight weeks in advance? I go off by myself for a couple of days. I get alone with God. I study, pray, pick out Scriptures, identify the main points of each upcoming message. Then when I sit down later to write a Sunday sermon, I've already been thinking and praying about it for weeks. I'm less stressed out, and the message preparation for that week actually takes less time. And hopefully it's a better sermon, too.
(QUICK SIDEBAR: People who know I plan sermons in advance sometimes ask me if I'm leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work. It's a fair question. My answer: 1- I believe the Holy Spirit is in the planning, because I spend a lot of time seeking God while I'm doing it; and, 2- I'm always open to the Holy Spirit telling me to change my plans at the last minute. It's happened before.)
Here's another example. One of our staff members uses the Quadrants to organize her to-do list:
What are some Quadrant 2 activities for you? Right now you're probably thinking of all the Quadrant 1 (urgent and important) activities you have to finish before you leave work today. Maybe you're mired in some Quadrant 3 activities--they're not important, but they have to be done, so you're slogging through them. I hope you're not wasting time on any Quadrant 4 activities.
But what "important but not urgent" activities could you do -- today, tomorrow, this weekend, or even right now -- that would keep you out of Quadrants 1, 3, and 4 in the days ahead?