I’ve been busy lately. And by lately, I mean for the last few months. Too busy for my own good, I think. The abundant activity of the Minnesotan summer has begun, both of my jobs have their own ‘adventures’, and don’t even get me started on negotiating the last weeks of wedding planning while still trying to be true to my wedding mission statement. However, despite being waist-deep in to-do lists and stress, I’m discovering I don’t feel challenged by most of what life is throwing at me these days. I feel taxed. And the cavernous gap between the two is essential, and was described perfectly by the message from a member of the Quaker meeting Ben and I attended this past Sunday.
“The activities of our lives can be divided into four quadrants,” began this Friend’s testimony, “that which is important and urgent, that which is neither important nor urgent, that which is urgent but not important, and that which is important but not particularly urgent. The first two are relatively easy to identify: your child getting hurt is both urgent and important, and dusting that decorative shelf in the dining room is neither important nor urgent. It’s the final two categories that are difficult to discern.” This friend went on to explain how she spends so much time doing the urgent but not important, ie. laundry, while often unintentionally neglecting the important but not urgent aspects of life, ie. building relationships; I do much the same thing, and am guessing that many others do as well.
The urgent but not important tasks are our to-do lists. They are what suck our energy, what consume our time, what make us feel like we’re accomplishing something when really we aren’t attending to the deep desires and fears of our selves. So much of my time as of late has been spent on the urgent but not important, the taxing unending series of details that demand my attention. I would even argue that most of the wedding planning would fit into this category, because while being married and celebrating with friends and family is important, the details that make up the event are not. Same with my work as a community organizer; bringing people together and sharing ideas and making change is important, but ordering the right amount of cookies and having every possible flyer copied for every person is not. These urgent but not important tasks keep us busy but do not bear fruit in the long term. They are not rejuvenating, they are depleting. They are taxing.
The important but not urgent is the opposite entirely. It is maintaining friendships over time. It is reading and conversing and engaging on the issues and ideas of the world. It is creating something for the sake of creation. And it is so easy to let go by the wayside for the sake of the urgent but not important. Attending to the important is challenging, especially when there is no action list to work from, when the future is an abstract vision. But it is so so essential, because that which is challenging rather than taxing may require our energy in the present, but it will rejuvenate us in the long term, will create a better life and world for ourselves and others.
For now I must attend to my commitments. I must finish wedding preparations and make good on my responsibilities to my job. But in time I will move my activities and focus to the challenging rather than taxing, the important rather than the urgent.
What urgent but not important tasks hijack your time? What important but not urgent aspect of life might you be neglecting? How can you attend to the latter in the coming weeks and months and move your energy to the challenging rather than taxing?