Winning the Battle Against the Tyranny of the Urgent

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Tyranny… cruel and oppressive power and control. What could possibly cause tyranny in your life? The urgent. Situations arise every day that are not planned for; they are not scheduled; yet they demand your immediate attention. The feeling of bondage to the tyranny of the urgent lies because there are other, more important things we need to be doing. How do we do battle with such an elusive foe? We never know when the urgent will strike yet it exudes power and control over us!

This week, I spoke to college students about the tyranny of the urgent. It’s actually a booklet written by Charles Hummel in 1967. He comments there is conflict because “we have done things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done”. For these students it was watching TV instead of studying; going out with friends instead of finishing a project; sleeping instead of going to class.

Their view of the tyranny of the urgent was deciding between two tasks. I asked them to consider the tyranny of the urgent from a broader perspective. Had I not done battle with the tyranny of the urgent, I would’ve ended up a divorced, single mom who was buying her kid’s love with the latest gadget.

Here are tactics in waging war against the tyranny of the urgent…

Decide What is Most Important

We listed 20 items on the board that were important to these students. Family. Friends. Education. Career. Finances. Success. Faith. Marriage. Health. Travel. Sleeping (yes… this actually was an answer.) I then asked them to deem what held the highest value in their lives. Most said their faith, then friends/family, then education/career. By stack-ranking this list, students could more easily identify when something was important vs. simply urgent.

Describe Your Future

We then discussed these areas in their lives and what each actually meant to them. Why was faith higher on their list than finances? What does success mean to you? What do you want out of your career over the next 20+ years? Why is building a strong marriage important to you? What does a strong friendship look like?

When faced with the tyranny of the urgent, the long-view you have of your life will drive the decisions you make, both big and small. It drives your career choices, where you choose to live, who you choose to marry, what you commit your finances to, if you have children… everything!

Defend Your Schedule

I finally asked a pointed question… if I were to look at your calendar, would I be able to tell what is most important to you? The students looked at their calendars and winced. If your faith takes the highest priority in your life, why don’t you have devotional time on your calendar? Only one of them did. If you don’t intentionally make time for the things that are most important to you, then these things really aren’t all that important, right? “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” My advice to them was to put the important tasks, meetings, dates on their calendar FIRST, then let everything else fill in. Defend your quiet time… defend the time with your spouse… defend your studying time… defend against the urgent by first committing to what is important.

The tyranny of the urgent is that we have one of two choices… we can either respond to compulsions and pressures of the moment or we can set our priorities and make intentional decisions in advance. Wield your sword in order to manage your life instead of managing your time.