Dr Dale Peterson, time management, President Eisenhower, urgent, important

So Much To Do – So Little Time!

So Much To Do – So Little Time!

© 2000 Dr. Dale Peterson; © 2006 Wellness Clubs of America.com

I did it again. Overextended myself beyond reasonable limits. Perhaps this could have been avoided with more careful planning, but it was mostly the result of keeping up with the urgent activities of my life so as to be free to do the important ones. I believe that it was President Eisenhower who first pointed out that the urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent.

Urgency screams to be served. It demands our attention. Its needs must be met, and met quickly. Hour after hour is consumed by its avarice.

Importance, on the other hand, is patient. It waits quietly for its turn. Days, weeks, months can pass by without any notice or complaint.

Unfortunately, in life as in mechanics, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. All too often we allow the important things to be squeezed out of our lives. One day we realize that years have passed and that we have far too little to show for the activity that has overshadowed our lives.

There are ways to prevent the urgent items from consuming an unreasonable amount of our lives. One of the best is to ask key questions. The first is, “Will doing this make a significant difference in my life or in the lives of others?” Stated another way, “What will be the consequence if I decide not to do this?” These questions may help to simplify a day’s routine.

Use of the telephone is an excellent example. A ringing telephone exemplifies urgency. It demands an immediate answer! Left unchecked the telephone can completely disrupt one’s schedule and consume one’s day. Although all phone calls present urgency, many are relatively unimportant. Asking the above questions can cut down on telephone disruptions.

“But how does one know if a call is truly important?” you may ask. Technology has made it possible to separate the important calls from the urgent ones. A number with a distinctive ring is available for a low monthly charge. Controlling access to this number can help identify the importance of each call. Caller ID and answering machines are also effective screening tools.

The questions, “Will doing this make a significant difference in my life or in the lives of others?” and “What will be the consequence if I decide not to do this?” can help sort out hour to hour and day to day activities, but another question is needed to keep on track over the long term. My personal favorite is, “Is this what I’d be doing if I knew I had only six months to live?”

This question encompasses many others such as, “Am I enjoying what I’m doing?”, “Is what I’m doing of long term benefit to people who are important to me?”, and “Will this be remembered when I’m gone?”

I have asked myself, “Is this what I’d be doing if I knew I had only six months to live?” many times over the course of my life. At first, I used it strictly to confirm major life decisions such as career and home location. Over time, however, I have learned that it is of value in determining my monthly schedule as well.

This brings me back to the dilemma of taking care of the urgent so as to be able to do the important. March is “Spring Break” time for students and teachers alike. My younger daughter, Camille, had her spring break during the first week of the month. It was important for Rosalie and me to travel to Phoenix to spend time with her, her husband, Tim, and our granddaughter, Victoria. My older daughter, Amitia, had her spring break during the third week of the month. It was equally important to spend that week traveling with her and her husband, Alex.

Urgent activities do not travel well. They much prefer to keep people pinned down to familiar surroundings. As a result, the second week of March was filled with three weeks worth of pressing measures.

Was it worthwhile? When I applied the test, “Would I be doing this if I knew I had only six months to live?” the answer was a resounding, “Yes!” If I were to die tomorrow my family’s grief would be eased by the memories of the wonderful times we had recently spent together. That’s important! On the other hand, Rosalie’s future would be less complicated because I had faithfully taken care of the urgent items that were most critical.

Life requires balance. If we do not make time to do the urgent our lives will be in complete disarray. Going to work, paying bills, and filing tax forms are urgent tasks. If we did not show up for work we wouldn’t earn a living, if we didn’t pay our bills in a timely manner we would lose our utility service and have our homes repossessed, and if we didn’t file our taxes in a timely manner we could wind up in prison. The urgent does have a way of getting its due!

We must remember, however, that if we do not set aside time to do the important our lives will have little meaning. The key is to set the needed time aside. The important will rarely be done by chance – urgency is too greedy.

Schedule important activities in advance. Time for study and contemplation. Time with the family. Time for exercise. Time for things you won’t regret. Remember, nobody ever says on a deathbed, “I wish I’d have spent more time at the office.” Far too many have, at the end of their lives, said, “I wish I’d have spent more time on the important!”

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