The Tyranny of the Urgent
I had exactly seven and a half minutes — just enough time to quickly refill my mug with mediocre coffee in the break room before my next meeting.
Mug in hand, my heels clicked loudly on the tile as I power-walked toward the coffee maker. A good friend and co-worker was in the break room when I rushed in. With her brow furred with determination,s he was fishing a mid-afternoon snack out of her lunch bag in the fridge,
“Hey!” I said cheerfully, while pouring black liquid into my mug, “How’s your morning going?”
“Good,” she responded flatly, still focused on her search.
I could tell by that one word, that she was not “good.” My friend is the type of person who exudes joy, she is always upbeat, extremely chatty, and full of life. A one word, monotone response was a red flag. Something was up. I knew it.
There was a long pause as I sprinkled Truvia and French-vanilla CoffeMate into my coffee and contemplated about how to respond.
I glanced at the clock. 9:58. Two minutes and counting. There wasn’t time.
“That’s good,” I said. “Hope you have a great rest of the day.” I pretended I hadn’t noticed her unusually dreary mood.
I felt deeply guilty for brushing her off. But I figured it would be better to ask her how she is really doing when I wasn’t in such a rush. As I power-walked to my meeting, trying not to splash coffee all over my new pink dress, I promised myself I would check in on her later.
But by 9:59 I had snatched my presentation off the printer, by 10:00 I was in the conference room ready for my meeting, and by 10:01 I had completely forgotten about the interaction with my friend.
The whole thing didn’t come back to my memory until last week when I was in another conference room with the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of a multibillion-dollar finance company. (I am currently working on a project at work that gives me to opportunity to interview executives of large corporations about the culture of their companies.)
After a series of introductory questions, my colleague asked the CEO if he would share the greatest challenge he faces as he strives to maintain a healthy company culture.
“The tyranny of the urgent,” he answered quickly and emphatically.
He explained that when there is something urgent going on his company, it often takes priority over more important things like being intentional with his employees or thoughtful about the way he communicates.
“I have been guilty of choosing a route through the office that allows me to interact with the least amount of people possible,” he admitted.
When he said this, I flashed back immediately to my hurried break room interaction with my hurting friend.
Too often I allow what is urgent to take precedence over what is meaningful and worthwhile.
I’m not a CEO but I can absolutely relate to that challenge of fighting the tyranny of the urgent. I miss out on opportunities to encourage friends at the office. I snap at my husband because I’m too busy to take time to speak kindly. I forget to call and check in on my sweet grandmother.
During our interview, the CEO explained to us that his worldview as a believer in Christ drives the way he leads his company.
“Jesus was always on mission but never in a hurry. That is the way I hope to lead,” he said boldly.
Those words have echoed in my soul since he spoke them. I would much rather have the Prince of Peace ruling my life, than to spend it oppressed under tyranny of the Urgent.
We will never eliminate circumstances when something needs to happen quickly.
But sometimes it is better to tell the urgent to “wait,” so we can allow ourselves to focus on conversations and activities that are worthwhile.
Sometimes we should say, “no” to commitments so that we have fewer opportunities for Urgent to rule our schedules.
Sometimes we should swap productivity for purpose.
I still have miles to grow in this area. How are you doing in the fight against the tyrant of Urgency?