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The Urgent vs. The Important



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Looming deadlines, new product launches, personnel evaluations, staff meetings, grocery shopping, laundry, quality control, corporate inspections, vehicle maintenance, kid’s soccer game, homework, late-night work phone call… you get the idea.  And that’s just on a Thursday.  Life is busy.  I certainly don’t need to tell you that many times there is more work at the end of the day than there is day at the end of the work.  What you might need to hear is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  You see, it is very easy to find a rhythm and be able to navigate many of these tasks on auto-pilot- being present in body, but not at all present in the moment.  It is in these patterns that we put ourselves at great danger as leaders.

We often pride ourselves on what we are doing in our lives and in the lives of our organization.  What I have come to learn, is that our focus should be more on who we are becoming than in what we are doing.  It is widely accepted that leadership is all about influence.  When we spend an unchecked amount of our time, energy, and treasure focusing on what we are doing- it is easy to get so wrapped up in our to-do list that we neglect our who’s who list.  When our contact list is placed at a distance because our deadlines are too near, we are making a decision (even if it is an unconscious decision) to decrease our level of influence… our leadership.

It is impossible to say yes to everything.  In fact, mature leaders often find themselves saying no much more than they find themselves saying yes.  It would seem like this is a simple thing to do, but when you have to say no to things that present themselves as urgent it feels much more difficult than saying no to things that you are confident are on stable ground.  As a result, many leaders neglect those things that are much more significant to their longevity and stability as leaders in favor of someone else’s idea of what is important.  It is when this activity becomes a pattern that serious damage is done.

Wondering whether or not you have slipped into a dangerous pattern that can undermine everything you’ve worked for?

Ask yourself a few simple questions to get a snapshot of where you are at in this part of your journey:

  1. How many times in the past week have you allowed an urgent work call or issue to interrupt time with your family/social life after your normal work hours are over?
  2. When was the last time you took an uninterrupted 24-hour time period to do something that brings joy into your life and refreshing into your spirit?
  3. How often do you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about undone tasks or deadlines?
  4. Do you find it hard to tell others that you are unwilling to do something because it would violate time that is set aside for your personal growth?

By the time you have answered the above questions honestly, you will have a pretty good idea where you stand.  If answering these questions delivered a bit of a gut punch to you, listen to that prompting.  Set boundaries around those things that are most important to you.  I have heard it said that the priority in one’s schedule should go to those who will be sitting on the front row of the funeral.  Stop devoting every ounce of energy to those that will replace you within a week if you leave.  Stop giving more weight to that upcoming project requirement than you do to the people that will be implementing that project.

Here are a few tips that you can implement today to make an immediate impact in this area of your leadership:

  • Have the water cooler conversation.
    • That moment of personal connection with a team-member will pay dividends in the form of buy-in.  Don’t waste time, but the importance of meaningful conversation cannot be overstated.
  • Do not look at your phone/computer/tablet during the first hour or the last hour of every day.
    • You owe it to yourself to set aside 1/10th of your day for your own mental clarity.
  • If you find yourself having to regularly choose between a work dinner or dinner with the family- choose dinner with the family.
    • Think you’ll always have an opportunity to ask about your child’s day?  Try having a teenager.  They won’t always be interested in talking to you.  Invest in them while you can.
  • There will always be an opportunity for another sale.  There won’t always be another opportunity for your child’s first dance.
    • As a parent, you are modeling for them what it means to be a provider, a protector, a partner, and a friend.  Make sure you are giving them an example that you’ll encourage them to follow.
  • Prioritize the right partnerships.  Start with your spouse.
    • I know… the vows said in good times or in bad.  Don’t make them bad if they don’t have to be.  If your spouse can enjoy the journey with you, the journey can last much longer.  Ignore this and you might find yourself without either.

Leadership is about influence… but leadership starts at home. Leadership starts with yourself.  You cannot be effectively leading if you are too busy reacting to every crisis around you.  Be intentional.  Set boundaries.  Lead well.

Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important. If you do, the important will become urgent.


Dr. Zebulan Hundley is an author, speaker, leadership coach, and the host of the podcast, Life-Giving Leadership with Dr. Zeb. With a doctorate in Church Leadership, Dr. Zeb specializes in non-profit leadership environments where volunteers comprise a majority of the workforce. His experience comes not only from the non-profit sector, but also from his time in for-profit corporations and in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as the Executive Pastor at Hope Church in Warner Robins, GA and has recently released his book, Learning the Art of Effective Leadership. Follow him on Facebook & Instagram @zebulanhundleyauthor


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