Urgent vs Important: Prioritizing Writing Time When You Have No Time

When you make time for what’s urgent, do you take time away from what’s important? I do.

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, say (via his Daily Hope podcast) “The urgent has a tendency to replace the important.”

How true that is, in all areas of life. Don’t you agree?

In context, the pastor was referring to our tendency to prioritize the “do-right-nows” of life over prayer, and tending to our faith and to other people. But I think writers can be guilty of the same: prioritizing other things, or other kinds of writing, over the type of writing that’s really important

Lately, I’ve been trying a few things to break myself of this tendency. Here’s what has worked for me so far.

Typewriter keys
Credit: Laineys Repertoire, flickr.com

Pick one daily activity that is less important than writing, and dump it permanently.

Here are three things that kept me from writing in 2013. Ready? Candy Crush, making sure the kitchen sink was empty every morning, and tinkering overmuch with the look and feel of this blog. I handled it (eventually, and it wasn’t easy) by deleting Candy Crush, ignoring the dishes in the morning (mostly) and reserving blog tinkering for other times of the day.

Not that it was easy. It’s not! The consequences ranged from the annoying and slightly disturbing—I would compulsively reach for my iPhone and click on the spot where Candy Crush used to be—to the downright distressing, when my blog would look awkward and half-finished for sometimes an entire day, or more.

End result: More writing happened. And that’s the point.

Pick one daily activity that is more important than writing, and tag writing onto it.

Having a morning routine is something that’s recently become extremely important to starting my day on the right foot. Slotting writing into that morning routine, every morning, no matter what, has made my writing habit and life in general better, more interesting and more fulfilling. But I’m able to keep it up because I’ve gotten a morning routine down, and getting ready to go to my day job in an orderly fashion is extremely important (you know, keeping a roof over my head and the Internet on, and all that).

Try it! Think of some non-negotiable every day activities that you can tack writing onto. Picking the kids up from school? Get there ten minutes early with your tablet or a notebook in tow. Put a notebook in the bathroom (or just type on your phone when you’re in there). That kind of thing.

And here’s a strategy that hasn’t worked for me. 

Trying to fit in both the important and the urgent.

You can’t do it all. Related: You’ve got to give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all.

Part of life, as I’m reminded most days, is that you can’t have and do everything you want. You can’t fulfill every last dream, but it’s easy to convince yourself that you can, from time to time. Telling yourself, “I can fit in both [X Urgent Thing] and [Y Important Thing],” is, at best, a recipe for mediocrity. At worst, it’s impossible. Instead, try the two strategies outlined above!


What do you think? What strategies do you use to discern the important from the urgent, and what do you do about it? Share your thoughts in the comments.