I was asked to speak to a group this week on New Year’s Resolutions, and I decided instead to speak on new priorities. I don’t care much for resolutions, since they are mostly attempts to arm-wrestle small problems into submission without having to look plainly at one’s life.
As soon as I focused on priorities I thought of the “Urgent/Important Matrix.” It may have been the brainchild of President Dwight Eisenhower, who said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important”—which is the bright message of the matrix. But it was Stephen Covey who popularized it in his bestselling Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
You’ve no doubt seen this. If you’re like me, you’ve also gone your way and forgotten it.
You know about quadrant one—Urgent and Important. When a baby is crying or you’ve got a kitchen fire, it’s urgent and you have to respond. Now. But if you want to live a life that matters, you don’t want to spend too much time here.
You know quadrant three—Not Important and Urgent. These are all the time-sucking distractions and interruptions that pour in through the doors of email and text. Tasks that fit under the category of “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” These are not all bad; they just have to be managed into abatement.
Quadrant four—Not Important and Not Urgent—is a no-brainer. Mindless web browsing, banal RSS feeds, channel surfing. Must be managed to near-elimination.
Then there’s quadrant two. Important but Not Urgent. This is exercise. Maintaining deep personal relationships. Reviewing your career path. Planning now for important things that will happen in the future only if you act now. These are all things that are extremely important for a life that matters but . . . they don’t require your immediate attention. (You want to live as much as possible here! Yet nothing in the world will make this seem terribly urgent.)
It occurred to me yesterday that God’s movement in our lives is the ultimate image of Important but Not Urgent. God is deferential, does not come uninvited. God prefers the dove-like visitation of the Spirit, tends to speak in that “still small voice.” Once in a great while a bush burns right in front of you, or you are knocked off your horse on some Damascus road. But not usually.
In like manner, the spiritual life is right in the sweet spot of quadrant two. If you determine to live with a deep and constant sense of your inner life, following the yearning journey of your soul, it will take a high-level awareness. You will need to sense an urgency of the spirit which is corroborated by nothing in the external world. You will be saying to yourself, “I know this is the most important thing I can attend to right now, even though every message coming to me from the culture says it isn’t.”