The Important Things We Must Ignore It's not just the urgent, but the important that derails us.
The tyranny of the urgent…a common term describing how urgent matters threaten to hijack our precious time. Even more insidious, are the amazing opportunities, altruistic pursuits, or other truly worthwhile endeavors which seek to steal our time and attention, but in the end don’t serve our desired vision.
How do we identify which tasks add value to our lives and which draw us further away from our goals and destinies?
In order to distinguish the profitable opportunities in our lives and ignore the ones which may serve to distract, we must answer two questions clearly:
First, we must know our vision—for our life, our family, our team, or our organization. As Stephen Covey instructs in the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we must “begin with the end in mind.” I know from personal experience, many times we wander through life without determining our destination. But to define our vision, we must simply answer the question, “Where do I want to go?”
The second question is, “What tasks must I do consistently (maybe even daily) for me to accomplish my vision?” Once these two questions have been answered, we must do the hard work of blocking anything that seeks to distract us.
Block the attacks of the important.
I started the article by saying we must “ignore” seemingly important tasks, but ignoring seems like a passive motion of just looking away. Blocking and resisting distractions is a more accurate description of how we should actively guard our time.
I am reminded of American football, where the goal of the game is that the offensive team’s quarterback advances the ball down the field to the end zone. All the while, big, powerful defensive players lunge after him to knock him down as his teammates attempt to defend him from the assault. That’s how I envision us protecting our time. It is a violent affair. There is pain. There is injury sometimes. It is an active, intentional process, but the prize at stake, both in football and in life, is reaching our goal.
Here is how to identify the items we should block.
Block the things that scream at you.
We usually give our attention to people and things that “scream” at us for our attention. But we must block the noise and maintain our focus on what we really need to do. I’ll offer a personal example. One of my daily disciplines is an hour of intentional thinking. I like to have an hour free of interruption to think, plan, and strategize. During this hour I do not answer email or work on other tasks. I actually have a list prepared of items to think on each day, and this hour is dedicated to going through my list.
You can guess where I am going with this… My thinking hour does not scream at me. But other important tasks do, like getting a call from my clinic reporting long wait times and requesting me to come in to back up the working doctor. I feel guilty if I don’t go. People complain if I don’t go. I may even lose loyal patients and needed revenue if I don’t go.
Our priorities—such as exercising, eating well, or spending time with our kids—easily get put off because they typically don’t scream at us. They are quietly waiting for our attention. I am calling you out today to let them scream. It takes strength and grit to choose what is most valuable to us sometimes. But when other people or priorities are demanding our attention, and we stand firm and say “no” because we are attending to our greatest priorities, we have reached a place of discipline and maturity in life that will serve to fulfill our visions.
Block amazing opportunities.
Another attack that comes barreling at us is often disguised as amazing opportunities. Shouldn’t we go after great opportunities?
I have learned that opportunities can be a big deterrent to reaching our goals. We tend to drop everything to check them out or to go after them. After all, our fear of missing out on something wonderful can easily distract us from what we have already been called and equipped to handle.
I recently had a chance to start a new business. But doing so would mean taking away time from my family, my daily reading and study, and other things I have determined to be important in my life. It was so hard to say no. I had to block and resist. It kind of hurt to say no, but I knew it was important to stand firm and guard my greatest priorities.
Block the seemingly “right things” to do.
About a year ago, I was asked to lead a small ministry. At face value it seemed the right thing to do. But really, for me, it was not. It would have caused me to default on many other commitments I already had. I had to choose to: Do what is needed; not what seems right.
Let’s take a pastor of a small church for example. Say the pastor decides the best way to invest his time is to allocate three hours a day training people individually in his church. And then one day, something terrible happens, and his presence is needed at the hospital to comfort a grieving family. What will he choose? Of course each situation necessitates a different response. However successful leaders resist even doing what seems right sometimes (not to do something morally or ethically wrong), but to do what is necessary to reach the overarching vision.
You see, it’s not just the urgent that derails our time; more often it is the important that does. So, we must commit to block, resist, and endure. Wishing you the best in managing the minutes of your life…
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