The Tyranny of the Urgent

One of the unfortunate things about my life is that I’m often too busy living and reacting, and I don’t end up accomplishing the things I set out to do.

For example, I would like to be the kind of husband that cherishes my wife, and doesn’t take her for granted — the kind of husband who continues to court his wife and models this in front of his children. I would also like to be the kind of father who has time to spend with his children, and who is not to busy to give each of his sons and daughters regular, focused attention.

Sadly, my good intentions rarely work out. I mean well, but when the dust of a busy day settles, I find that other urgent things, like work, ministry and sleep (not to mention my own desire for entertainment) leave no time to do the things I consider most important. For this reason, I reluctantly decided to adopt some goals again this year.

Sarah's Special Day
Of course, there was no reluctance in making time to plant some tomatoes with Sarah.

I’m not a person who likes goals. I don’t enjoy the inevitable feeling of guilt when I fail to meet them. I don’t value structure for its own sake, and I hate being told what I have to do, even if I’m doing the telling. I don’t have much respect for the mechanical and repetitive, preferring to be a ‘free spirit’, unfettered by mundane routine.

Kathy’s been listening to a number of Dee Duke sermon series lately, and (when she leaves them running in my car CD player) I’ve been tuning in as well. Duke is an advocate of goals and disciplines, and is often challenged by this sort of question:

“Shouldn’t we be motivated to [insert discipline here -- prayer, reading your Bible, confessing your sins, whatever] out of love for Jesus, not by rote or as an obligation?”

Dee answers: “Sure. The problem is, I only feel like doing these things about once a week. In any case, how do you go about loving Jesus? Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:5)

A family game of Zooloretto
“If you love me, you’ll let me win.” (NOT what Jesus said.)

As much as I might prefer to be a ‘free spirit’, I can’t argue with results. In fact, I hardly have any results at all to argue with. So I wrote for myself some goals again this year. Craftily, I associated my goals with my computer-game-playing chip allowance, so that the more goals I complete each week, the more computer game chips I receive. Not surprisingly, I’ve found myself much more willing to pursue my goals than I am when there is no consequence to neglecting them, and I am finding time to do the things that I’ve set out in advance to do.

Here is a partial list of my goals, which I track on a weekly basis:

  • Read at least 12 chapters of my Bible each week
  • Pray with my wife twice a week
  • Read at least one Bible chapter to my children three times a week
  • Take my wife out of the house on a date at least once a month
  • Go on a “special day” outing with at least one of my children each week
  • Pray for each of the 22 families on my prayer cards at least 6 times each week
  • Lose a pound each week until I meet my weight loss goal
  • Write an encouraging card to someone each week
  • Conduct an in-home date (usually take-out food and a movie) at least once a month with my wife
  • Write a blog post each week
  • Play at least 75 board games in 2009

I have to complete each of the weekly goals by Sunday night, which is why I am writing this blog post right now at 8:30 pm on a Sunday. Sure, it’s a bit hurried and lame sometimes, when I try to squeeze it all into one evening, after our Small Group meeting. But I have found that if I don’t set my face like flint (or at least like oatmeal) against the tyranny of the ‘urgent’, I won’t find time to do these things at all.

Joshua and Dee Duke
We forced Joshua to sneak up behind Dee Duke for this ‘photo op’.

I’ll grant you, it is a bit tricky to pray with Kathy while writing an encouraging note and playing a board game, especially if I try to exercise on the elliptical machine and read my Bible at the same time. I’m just not much of a multi-tasker, truth be told.

How about you? Are you the kind of person who revels in goals, making to-do lists for yourself each day? Or do you have another way that you are able to accomplish the things that you set out to do?


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8 thoughts on “The Tyranny of the Urgent”

  1. yep, lists. Some say lists are a crutch and I should train my mind to remember all those things. Even so, lists rarely have a time limit, so I can delay and delay and delay …

  2. YAY! great post! But I have a couple things:
    It looks like Dee is preaching, did you really make Joshua sneak up behind him in the midst of the sermon?
    Goals are good and the balance of yours between fun & purpose (Hmm, do those have to be juxtaposed?) make them even more profound.
    It’s the legalism that makes the TASKS a bit of drudgery. Not the obedience!

    Keep it up!

  3. Very challenging, dear Tim. Thanks, once again, for inspiring and encouraging me. I love you. Aunt Kate
    (you probably noticed I didn’t answer your question. Hymm. But I’m thinking about it…..)

  4. I’m a routine/schedule kind of guy: I like to do the same things in the same order, and several things (like going to bed) at the same time. This allows me to do everything I’ve been doing fairly easily, but any time I have to add something new… it can really throw me off [smile].


  5. Dear readers –

    Thank you for reading my blog post. In no particular order, I’ll address some of your comments.

    • Lists are great. Duke says that sometimes if he has a free hour, he’ll make a list of the things he wants to do even in that hour. Never let anyone disparage your lists by calling them a ‘crutch’. :)
    • One of the key things about goals is reviewing them often enough to keep at ‘em. That’s what I like about my weekly chip calculation — it keeps the easy-to-forget goals in mind.
    • Cindy, I’ll pass your chip recommendation on to she who is the Keeper of the Chips. :)
    • We did NOT make Joshua sneak up behind Duke in the middle of a sermon — he was holding forth in the lobby of the church during a break. As it was, I nearly had to threaten Joshua’s life to get him that close in the picture.
    • Fun is a key element to goals. If at least some of them aren’t fun, it is easy to quit or fall into self-pity. Last year one of my goals was to get enough sleep — which I think is perfectly reasonable.
    • So, what do you do to make sure your time isn’t wasted, Aunt Kate? :)
    • I try to review my goals and cross ‘em off when they are done, which makes me feel that I have new room for new goals, later in the year. For example, I had a goal that I wanted to accomplish by Valentine’s Day, and now that is done, my list is shorter.

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.


  6. LOL about the multitasking VBG! I have to do 2 things at a time most of the day to stay afloat.. I won’t bore you with the details of what I multitask since they are specifically mom/homeschool related (LOL)…

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