Fighting Against the Tyranny of the Urgent


I don’t know about you, but I have great intentions for being intentional. I start the week with an idea of a plan, but then I get tired or my time “magically” fills with other seemingly important things that are truly only urgent. My week quickly spirals into a series of rushed tasks and wasted time in front of a screen.

Charles E. Hummel wrote a short little booklet naming the problem with our culture is not that we are too busy, but that we are too focused on the urgent matters of the day rather than the important. Tyranny of the Urgent warns: “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”

Why is it hard to focus on the important tasks, relationships, goals, etc? “The problem is that the important thing rarely must be done today or even this week…but the urgent tasks call for instant action-endless demands pressure every hour and day.”

What are the urgent tasks that so easily distract?

  • Answering the phone
  • Replying to emails, tweets, Facebook notifications
  • Texting
  • Running the kids to one more soccer practice
  • Picking up your house before your spouse comes home from work
  • Cleaning up spills and toy messes
  • Answering a co-worker’s seemingly urgent question while ignoring your work
  • Saying yes to an urgent request of a friend and foregoing the plan you had for today
  • Watching one more episode of Lost because you have to know what happens next (do you have to really?)

The list could go on. None of these tasks are evil, in fact standing on their own, they are rather good and seemingly necessary. But do they take up the majority of our day? I would venture to say yes.

Now, what are the important things? {This is a list of what I have found to by my important things…yours may be different.}

  • Spending quality time every day reading the Word & praying
  • Building my relationship with my spouse
  • Coffee dates with friends
  • Fostering creativity in my home
  • Becoming debt-free
  • Living simply
  • Taking care of my health
  • Creating a peaceful atmosphere in my house

There are times when the urgent and the important intersect. When you have a friend you’ve wanted to know better call you to ask you to watch their toddler because they had an emergency. What a great time to invest in that friendship! There will be urgent bills to pay, so that you can reach your goal of becoming debt free.


Most of the time, we let the urgent cloud out the important. The intentions of living a life filled with substance can be placed on the back burner because you have to do the next thing. How do we escape this endless cycle?

We look to Jesus.

In John 17, Jesus makes a profound statement the night before He is crucified.

I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. John 17:4

Jesus lived a short 33 years on this earth, yet He was confident that He had finished all the things that He needed to do in His life! Many of us wonder how He could say that with so much healing still needed in this world!! He healed the bleeding woman in the crowd, but what about all the other women who needed His healing touch and the countless others that needed to hear the hope found in Jesus?

But, at the end of Jesus’ life, He had peace that He knew His work on this earth was complete.

How did He live this way? He listened to His Father and spent time with Him (Mark 1:35). He obeyed the voice of the One who holds all things in His hands so that He only did what was necessary to glorify His Heavenly Father. His life had a wonderful balance of communion with God and doing the work that God had assigned Him.

Now…how do we live this way? In a world that seems to bombard us with countless opportunities to always be doing something…but not always is it the BEST thing.

I think, we pause.

We use the quiet of the morning each day to lay our plans out before the Lord and ask Him how He wants to use us today. We stop the endless picking up of the house and engage with our children, spouse, or friend. We turn off the television long enough to see that God is calling us all to live the fullest life TODAY.

Tomorrow morning, wake up 10 minutes earlier and lay your plans and desires before the Lord. Ask Him how He wants you to use your day and then share with me if it helped make a difference.



  1. I have definitely struggled with getting caught up in the mindless, numbing ‘to-dos’ that don’t matter. I wrote a post a couple months ago about how often I can get distracted and not focus on my writing and relationships. I agree that avoiding those things come from a place of fear. Writing for 31 days is making me brave and I hope it is doing the same for you! 🙂


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