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TYRANNY OF THE URGENT

TYRANNY OF THE URGENT

Have you ever wished for a thirty-hour day? Surely this extra time would relieve the tremendous pressure under which we live. Our lives leave a trail of unfinished tasks. Unanswered letters, unvisited friends, unwritten articles, and unread books haunt quiet moments when we stop to evaluate.

But would a thirty-hour day really solve the problem? Wouldn’t we soon be just as frustrated as we are now with our twenty-four allotment? A mother’s work is never finished, and neither is that of any manager, student, teacher, or anyone else we know.

When we stop to evaluate, we realize that our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically the problem of priorities. Hard work does not hurt us. We know what it is to go full speed for long hours, and the resulting weariness is matched by a sense of achievement. Not hard work, but doubt and misgiving produce anxiety as we review a month or year and become oppressed by the pile of unfinished tasks. Demands have driven us onto a reef of frustration. We confess, quite apart from our sins, “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”

Several years ago an experienced manager said to me, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” He didn’t realize how hard his maxim hit. It often returns to haunt and rebuke me by raising the critical problem of priorities.

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. The urgent task calls for instant action–endless demands, pressure every hour and day.

Even a home is no longer a castle; no longer a place away from urgent tasks because the telephone breaches the walls with imperious demands. The momentary appeal of new distractions seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy. But in the light of time’s perspective their deceptive prominence fades; and with a sense of loss we recall important tasks we have pushed aside. We realize we’ve become slaves to the “tyranny of the urgent.”

Edited from Tyranny of the Urgent, by Dr. Charles E. Hummell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, © 1967). Used by permission of the publisher.

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