Editorial: Important but not urgent

Editorial: Important but not urgent

Some of the most important things in life don’t come with deadlines.

When we think about things like friendships, personal development or spiritual growth, deadlines and tangible goals certainly don’t come naturally.

Author Stephen Covey divides everything we do into four categories: important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither important nor urgent.

Usually, we don’t have problems with the important and urgent category. If something really matters and there’s a deadline, we take the necessary steps to accomplish this by our deadline.

We also usually don’t have problems with projects that are neither important nor urgent. If something doesn’t matter to us and it doesn’t matter when it gets done, these usually aren’t the things causing us trouble.

But the other two categories, I think, make us think about where we are putting our time and energy. We often spend way too much time on things that are urgent but not important instead of things that are important but not urgent — and often at a great cost.

As students, we deal with this dilemma all the time. We’re torn between two things: an assignment due tomorrow and a midterm at the end of the week. Obviously, the assignment has more urgency, but the midterm is more important.

If we wait until the midterm is both urgent and important and start studying the night before, we aren’t going to do as well.

While school is a good place to see this dilemma in action, I’d be hard-pressed to find a place I’ve seen this problem more clearly than I do in Chimes on a weekly basis.

Most of the major stories we write aren’t urgent — a rough draft of a new core curriculum, a draft of the strategic plan, a committee to search for a new provost.

But they are incredibly important, both to current students and future students, and it’s imperative that we cover them.

It takes an intentional effort, usually several times per week, from my editorial staff to make sure we are staying on top of the latest developments on these issues.

Why? Because these tasks are important but not urgent.

And the list could go on: how much time I’m putting into a friendship, performing community service for people I care about, developing an organizational culture where feedback is encouraged.

These are all things we can agree are important, but there are no deadlines and we rarely see consequences until urgency is introduced: my friend doesn’t want to be my friend anymore, I have no ties to my neighborhood when I need them the most, no naysayers come forward when I start moving forward with a bad idea in my organization.

So the big question is this: first, how do I identify the issues that are important but not urgent, and second, how do I make sure they get done?

Identifying them usually comes through some self-reflection and intentional thought. I do this best when I’m on a personal retreat or during my sabbath.

How do we get them done? Introduce urgency. Introduce a realistic, specific goal. I’m going to grab coffee with my friend once a week. I’m going to volunteer at my local school once per month. I’m going to intentionally surround myself with people who think differently than I do and directly ask whether they agree.

It’s by identifying our goals that are important but not urgent and taking intentional action to emphasize them that make sure these important issues don’t slip through the cracks.