Urgent and Important, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Sorry about my lengthy silence! There’s been a lot going on in my face-to-face world, both at school and in other parts of my life, and unfortunately it hasn’t left much time to write, to reflect, or to think about anything but immediately urgent concerns. In the school world, there was the end of a semester and the looming start of another – and, of course, all that goes along with administering exams, grading them, finalizing grades, and preparing for the start of new courses. Losing four days of school to snow and ice (one right before our Winter Break, and three during what would have been final-exam week) certainly didn’t help matters, either! The disruption in our “typical” routine at school was mirrored in other parts of my life, too … I put “typical” in quotes here because, after all, there’s no such thing as a “typical” day (or week or month or year) for a school, a family, or any other group of people. Life, as the old saying goes, is what happens when you have made other plans … and we’ve certainly had a lot of life going on over the past few months.

I’m reminded, though, of that important distinction between the Urgent and the Important made by Stephen Covey and so many others. Urgent things are time-sensitive (those grades have to be finished by Monday! Those exams had to be copied before the students could take them!), but time-sensitive is not always the same thing as mission-critical. Important things are mission-critical, but they may not be time-sensitive. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, distinguishes among four “quadrants” or categories of tasks – those that are both Urgent and Important, those that are Important but not Urgent, those that are Urgent but not Important, and those that are Neither. Obviously that first group (which he calls Quadrant I) requires our immediate, sustained attention, but most of our tasks fall into either the second group (Quadrant II, Important but not Urgent) or the third (Quadrant III, Urgent but not Important). As Covey wisely notes, if we focus on the Urgent, we tend to encounter more and more urgent crises, but if we can manage to focus on the Important, our lives over time become much less painful. After all, if you deal with the Important before it has a chance to become Urgent, there’s no mad rush to meet the deadlines … and there’s a corresponding reduction in our adrenaline and stress levels. Sometimes I wish I could tattoo that concept onto my own eyelids … or on the inside of my skull, or something like that! 🙂 And I certainly wish I could do the same for a few of my dear friends, some relatives, and a large number of current and former students – unhappy procrastinators all.

As my time of Urgent and Important task overload is coming to an end, I’m reminded that I can choose, each day, to focus on the Urgent or to focus on the Important. And whichever one I focus on, I’ll probably get more of it. For example, I could choose the Important task of regular exercise or the seemingly Urgent desire for a few more minutes of sleep. At home, I could select the Urgent demands of emails (new mail has arrived!) or Facebook updates, or I could choose the Important commitment of spending time with my family.

As new classes begin on Monday in my face-to-face teaching world, I choose to focus on – and help my students focus on – the Important rather than the Urgent. I’m also reminded that the Tres Columnae team needs to keep the Urgent vs. Important distinction firmly in mind as we continue to work on Version Beta of the project. There are many things we could be doing over the next few months, but we need to focus our time, attention, and resources on what’s truly Important to the project and to our Joyful Learning Community.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you balance the calls of the Urgent and the Important?
  • What seems most Important to you in your teaching and learning?
  • And what do you think are the most Important features of the Tres Columnae Project?

Tune in next time for more. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on January 24, 2011 at 10:10 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] that eighteen months have passed from when I “broke the silence” with my last post here. Three face-to-face teaching semesters, a whole summer, and part of another. So many […]

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