Urgent or Important? How Will You Know?

by Jon Acuff

More than likely, you’ve spent most of your life choosing to do more than is possible and beating yourself up for not being able to keep up.


“I should be able to handle all of this. Yes, I’ve added a new goal to my life that I care about. Yes, I’m trying to put a new daily action into an already crowded calendar, but I should be able to handle it all. Yes, I moved to Atlanta to take care of my ill father-in-law, but I should be able to carry on like nothing has changed.”

I work with an organization called Brightpeak and we see people approach their personal finances with the same “must do everything” attitude. Young couples think that in order to be financially responsible they have to measure every penny, predict every possible issue, work 17 side hustles and know exactly how much they’re spending on celery. They think they can and should be able to do it all when it comes to their money.

You know deep down you can’t accomplish everything, but there’s still a part of you, a part run by shame, that thinks you’re one or two apps away from doing it all. This is why chronic starters are always reading books about time management. Perhaps if we sliced the day just a little differently or combined an audiobook with the treadmill while also flossing, we could manage to get it all done.

Our attempts to do too much feel noble and honorable. Look at us, tirelessly working toward burnout, reducing the quality of everything because we insisted we can do everything. We can share that approach with honor on Instagram. That’s the grind. That’s the hustle.

We often do this because we’ve rolled forward some bad habit we learned in high school. You could pull off an all-nighter when the final product was a ten-page essay on the effects of trade restrictions during the Civil War. It’s a little harder to cram for something like your quarterly sales numbers or your weight. Eating a week’s worth of kale in a single night because you’re trying to get back on track with a diet is a bad plan.

At some point this catches up with you. You miss a flight and the whole fragile system falls apart. A soccer practice runs late and the plan collapses. One meeting takes too long and that dominoes into the rest of your day. A rotund family of groundhogs moves into your yard because the height of the grass provides tactical ground cover from neighboring red-tailed hawks.

Something fails, and in that moment we feel shame.

We don’t pull grace out of our pocket and cut ourselves slack. No, on the contrary, most people quit right there. Not just the extra thing that proved to be too much—we give up on the whole goal.

That’s the truly terrible part of trying too much. You don’t just drop the bonus item and carry on with your goal. You drop every ball you’re juggling when one gets out of sync.

When you can’t do it all and you won’t be able to, you feel ashamed and give up.

Or you pick a strategy and decide in advance what things you’re going to bomb.

When you choose in advance what those things will be, you remove the sting of shame. The surprise effect of shame pointing out something you’re bad at is removed. Instead of reacting in shock at some ball you’ve dropped, you get to say, “Oh, that ball I put down on purpose before the game even started? Thanks for noticing!”

It will feel uncomfortable at first, it always does. But the long term benefits are worth the short term pain.

What’s a practical example of this principle at work? Well, every November, churches should sit their staffs down and pick which things they won’t focus on in December. We tend to act like December is a month just like May, even though the truth is that Christmas is the Super Bowl for most churches. It’s your busiest season.

What if instead of burning out staff, you asked each member to name five things they wouldn’t work on until January? What if you asked them to choose five things they’d bomb until the rush was over of Christmas?

Can you imagine what that would do to morale?

You can’t do everything.

I don’t care how productive you are or how efficient. Some things are going to fall through the cracks.

Use strategy and pick those things ahead of time.

Strategy always beats shame.

www.acuff.me. Used by permission. 

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