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Separating the Urgent from the Important

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I admit it. I’m guilty. I have, on more occasions than I care to admit, told my kids I’ll play with them “later” only to get caught up in my profession, the housework, or some other task and then letting the day get completely away from me. Every time it happens I think to myself, Next time I’ll … and sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

How do I let that happen? How do I forget what’s the most important thing at the end of the day? Why do I consistently get caught in this cycle? And why do I waste time beating myself up about it instead of just taking the time to learn from my mistakes and be on guard for the next time?

When I was a kid, I used to visit my Aunt Sara in Illinois. In her bathroom is a sign that reads “The work will wait while you show the kids the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you finish the work.” Whenever moments like this creep up into my life, I’m reminded of that sign. And there are definitely things I’ve learned along the way. I try and blog about the positive lessons in life as a mini catalog for the tremendous amount of learning I’ve had in the last couple years. But through it all, one of the most important things I’ve learned is being able to identify what is urgent and what is important.

There are two types of activities I most feel compelled to do throughout each day: the urgent and the important. The urgent things include items like paying bills, cleaning up messes, returning phone calls, scheduling the doctor appointments, and meeting a deadline. The important things include my meditation time, playing with my kids, taking time for family, making time for a friend in need, and helping out a loved one.

Sometimes the line between the two gets muddled. I can’t spend all day playing with the kids when my boss is expecting something by 4:00. Nor can I put off paying the bills because an event has come up that we just “have to” go to. I need balance. That means I need some internal reflection.

I have a couple of ground rules that my family is aware of.

  • I need meditation time in the morning. Trust me, guys. You DON’T want me to miss it. I’m pretty grumpy without it.
  • My family needs time with me each day.
  • My home needs to be clean, but it gets done in chunks. Laundry one day, dusting another, then vacuuming another day.
  • Clean doesn’t always mean spotless. In our house, a little mess is good for the soul.
  • If you don’t tell me you need something, I don’t know you need it. Whether it be something from the store or an emotional need, speak up or forever hold your peace.
  • I need help and so does my family. I can’t do it all and I don’t expect my family to do it all either.
  • I need gentle reminders if I get too involved in a project and need to reconnect with my loved ones. Yelling and pouting doesn’t work, but thoughtful conversations go a long way.
  • There are times I need to shut the door and get work done. But it won’t be forever and I need your patience.
  • I will give you space to do the things you love. I ask for the same in return.
  • I shut the laptop off one full day a week. While it might not seem like much, that’s a big commitment from me. And my family gets that.

Recognize the urgent and the important and make balanced decisions in your family life. It will help. Trust me.


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