Creating Boundaries: Urgent vs. Important

 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” 

~Galatians 1:10 (ESV)~


“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”

~Brené Brown~


          If I could advise you about one thing in life, it is this: do the things you need to do so that you can do the things you want to do. This sounds simple, but sometimes the things that have to get done take over the day and the important but non-urgent things fall by the wayside, pushed to the back of the agenda even though they would greatly benefit our businesses or lives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with things being urgent; it just means they have some kind of deadline. The problem comes when we assume that because things are urgent, they are the most important.

          Urgency—especially false or overblown urgency—can absolutely control us and our quality of life. One way that we can counteract this is by minimizing procrastination. If we do things ahead of time instead of waiting until the very last minute, then we won’t be racing to put a card in the mailbox the day before someone’s birthday or getting the car repaired because we neglected standard maintenance. So there are some ways we can care for ourselves in this area. One of my favorite thinkers and writers Brené Brown puts it this way, “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment”.

          However, urgent items are often imposed on us by other people. This is where setting clear and firm boundaries is vital. Just because someone asks you to do something does not mean you have to say yes. To quote Susan Gregg, “No is a complete sentence”. In other words, you are not obligated to explain to the person why. When there is something you want to do, it is also okay to define the parameters in which you are willing to complete the task.  It might be useful to get in the habit of reminding yourself regularly: “Someone else’s lack of planning does not constitute making it my emergency”.

          For example, I run the tech team at my church. We have practice on Thursday nights. It has been communicated to our staff and leadership that all announcements, special slides and other extras need to be given to the tech team by Wednesday (this gives them a grace period that I don’t announce but the topic of giving yourself buffers will be saved for another day). When someone walks up on Sunday morning with something they would like to add to the visuals we have a clear boundary established that allows us to say no. Communication is key. 

          Prior to establishing the boundary, our team would try to fit it in if we could. It may not seem like it wouldn’t be a big deal to say “yes, if we can make it work”. But in reality, all those “yes” choices did was stress out the volunteers. For the long term health of the team (the most important), I had to eliminate the possibility of a last minute “urgent”. This was because if I continued to allow that stress— Even if they could technically get it done— I would lose volunteers. Building a great team and being kind to them is more important than the ability to accommodate someone else’s lack of planning. 

          One of the tools that I use when figuring out how to prioritize things in my own life and figure out the most important to my purpose is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. This is the idea that there are four categories:

  1. High Importance and Urgency
  2. High Importance Low Urgency
  3. Low Importance High Urgency
  4. Low Importance Low Urgency


         This matrix can help us separate things out and know what we need to focus on and what is most important to us. We often let important tasks get trampled by the urgent ones. We also know that if something is truly urgent then we also cannot ignore it. It does need to be done. Therefore, the goal is to get the urgent done as efficiently as possible so that we can move onto the important without the urgent hanging over our head. We need to also try to do less of the trivial, which is neither very important nor very urgent, to make time for the important but not as urgent, such as long-term planning, eating healthy meals, creating new systems, etcetera. Those are the things that bring life and growth to your personal and business life.  


“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”


~Dwight D. Eisenhower~


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