How to Make Time for What’s Important but not Urgent

​”Action expresses priorities.” 
~ Mahatma Gandhi​

Why don’t we do the things that we know are important to us?

I’ve observed this contradiction all over the place. (Both in my life, and in the lives of others.)

We say something is important…but our actions tell a different story.

A few things that can easily fall into this category:

  • Meditating
  • Journaling
  • Calling a friend to catch up
  • Exercising
  • Going to bed
  • Preparing a healthy meal

Clearly these activities enrich our lives. Yet so frequently, they fall to the wayside.

It’s become clear to me why this happens so easily.

Although these activities are important, they don’t feel urgent.

Reacting to Urgency

We live in a fast-paced world, where many things feel urgent.

The smartphone in your pocket constantly lassos you into many “urgent” tasks:
  • Breaking news alerts
  • Emails in your inbox
  • Social media notifications

Regardless of their level of importance in your life, it’s easy for urgent things to steal your attention.

And when that happens, the non-urgent stuff falls to the wayside. Even if it clearly supports you living at your best!

Without that feeling of urgency, you aren’t compelled to take action on them.

This might feel okay for a little while, but fail to take action on something important for long enough, and you’re left withregret, guilt, and frustration.

Recalibrating our Behavior

Navigating this challenge splits into two categories:

  1. ​​Letting go of what’s urgent but not important
  2. Prioritizing the important but not urgent

1) Letting go of what’s urgent but not important

Starting in this category is a way to give yourself more time. Spend less time on what you don’t value (even if it feels urgent) to spend more time on what you do.

This is easier said than done, but it starts by cultivating greater awareness.

First, of what is important to you and what’s not.

And second, of when the urgent and unimportant activities threaten to steal your time and attention.

With that awareness in hand, you can pause, re-ground yourself, and proceed with intention.

2) Prioritizing the important but not urgent

Urgency is felt in the present. “I want/need to do this now because [reason]” 

Regret is felt looking backwards. “I wish I had done [important thing]”

One way to avoid future regret is by doing a bit of time-travel. 😃

It’s a simple thought experiment I use all the time. It works like this:

  1. Time-travel: Picture yourself in the future, on any time-scale. (1 day, 1 week, 3 months, 1 year, 10 years…)
  2. Set the context: Things are going great in this future. You’ve shown up and invested your time and energy in the things you care about. You feel awesome about how you’ve spent your time.
  3. Reflect: What did you do between now and then to feel this way? What types of things did you do? By looking backwards, it takes urgency out of the picture. You’re free to see things in relation to importance.
  4. Make note:​ Write down the activities you did, and how you went about them. 
  5. Make plans: Plan to do the things that are important to you! Add them to your to-do list. Make a Daily Wins Checklist and include them there. Put them in your calendar.
  6. Take action! Sure, it’s easier said than done.

I use this exercise on an almost daily basis. (Though not always writing it down.)

When thoughts about letting things slide, or taking the easy way out show up, I’m quick to think ahead. (“In the future…How do I want to say I acted?”)

By empathizing with my future self, I’m better able to take action on what’s most important. Even when it’s more difficult, uncomfortable, or scary.

For your reflection: What activities in your life are important but not urgent? How might you spend a little more time on them this week?

Let’s make it a great week!

Patrick

PS: This is true not only on a personal level, but on an organizational level. (E.g. A company prioritizes client work 100% of the time, and forgets to take care of the wellbeing of their employees.) If you feel like you might be in that position, and want to explore how to create positive change in your company/organization, I’d love to speak with you about that.