Are You Living an Urgent Life or an Important Life?

There are moments throughout our lives, and they happen almost every day, where we catch a glimpse of what we are capable of, a flicker of what we are destined to be, or a hint of what we desire to become.

It could be a burst of inspiration for that book we always wanted to write. Or the yearning to finally lose the extra weight. Or the feeling of dissatisfaction with our job and an urge to build something of our own.

These are important desires and they call to us all the time. But right before we answer their call, the urgency of life tends to get in the way. Your phone rings. Your car is low on gas. Your boss drops a tight deadline on you. And so we delay our dreams one more day for the sake of putting out another fire.

How do we get past this? How do we start living the life that’s important to us instead of just responding to the everyday emergencies?

The Next 10 Years of Your Life

Think about this: you’re going to spend the next 10 years doing something.

Too often that something is responding to what is urgent instead of pursuing what is important.

Too often the need to make money (urgent) wins out over the desire to build something we’re proud of (important). Too often the urge to find a way to lose twenty pounds in six weeks (urgent) wins out over becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts (important). Too often the craving to be noticed or appreciated (urgent) wins out over the ability to be present and satisfied (important).

Sure, we all need money. And yes, there are times when the world requires us to put important things on hold so that we can get the rest of our crazy lives under control. Handling responsibilities is part of life. But how long will you delay what’s important to you just so that you can handle the next urgent thing in front of you? How long will you put off what you’re capable of doing just to maintain what you’re currently doing?

Will you wait a year? Five years? Your whole life?

Too often we live our lives based on what is urgent for us and not what is important to us. It’s dangerously easy to spend years constantly chasing the next urgent thing and never setting aside time to do what we know we should.

How to Overcome the Urgency of Everyday Life

If you want to start living an important life, then choose a clear direction for yourself. When you have the courage to say, “This is important to me and I’m going after it,” you don’t fall into the trap of living the life that other people expect you to live.

For example…

If I know that my unwavering goal is to finish this article, then that goal gives me direction and purpose. Whenever I have a free moment, I write another sentence. Whenever I get a new idea, I automatically think about how it relates to accomplishing my goal of finishing this article. My life is organized around accomplishing this specific, important task.

We all have urgent tasks each day — a phone call we have to take, an email we need to respond to, a sick friend we have to help — but having a clear purpose and a specific goal allows you to get right back to what is important after you respond to the everyday emergencies. A specific goal gives you direction and prevents you from being sucked into a whirlwind of time–consuming, unimportant tasks.

A specific goal is different than a desire, and that’s crucial to understand. Wanting to get in shape is a desire, doing 100 pushups in a row is a specific goal. Wanting to start your own business is a desire, securing three paying clients is a specific goal. Wanting to write a book is a desire, finishing the first chapter is a specific goal.

Live an Important Life

Nothing worth working for will ever seem urgent. That’s the nature of important goals. They don’t demand attention right now. They require a sense of purpose, a clear direction, and consistency over the long haul.

I propose that we stop letting the seeds of greatness slip through our fingers. I say that we abandon the frantic rush towards mediocre and start the slow march towards greatness.

Pick one thing that’s important to you, set a specific goal for yourself, and get started today.

Never leave your dreams unfulfilled.


    • Savannah — First, thanks for reading. And second, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I took a look at your site — you’ve had quite the travel adventure. You’re welcome to come back and share your ideas here anytime.

      • No problem! Was a great read. Thanks for taking an interest in my story. If you ever have time for a good travel book you know where to find mine… just don’t be scared away by the subtitle ;)
        Look forward to your posts. Merry Christmas!!!

  1. James, how true?! It’s so stinkin’ easy to let life lead you by the leash, taking few risks and allowing for blame when life just doesn’t go perfectly. Which it won’t.


    But we miss so much of what could be. Reaching our potential. Growing stronger. Realizing dreams. It takes courage and the ability to say that’s ENOUGH! I’m making a change no matter what!! Which becomes easier with each intentional action. Love it!

    At this point in my life even those important goals that are worth working for carry with them some sense of urgency. There’s desire but also a sense of times running thin! I’m not sure how to combat that.

    Thanks James!

    • Garry, great to hear from you.

      As for time running thin, I suppose it’s always running thinner. All the more reason to do things that are important to us!

  2. Very well said, truly inspiring!

    Personally, I need to have “in your face” kind of reminders, for those important items in my life. Reminders like written goals, photos, notes. Actually, the whole wall in front of my work space is dedicated to this.

    Another thing I’ve learned – whenever possible, dedicate time to work on high leverage (important) tasks first thing in the morning. For me, an hour of work in peak state is worth at least 4 hours of work when tired/not in a mood.


    • Darius — I couldn’t agree more with you on dedicating morning time to important tasks. One of the most successful changes for me has been moving my important work to the morning before I open my email inbox.

  3. Very inspiring and motivating insights James. Setting specific goals and adhering to a consistent schedule to accomplishing them is a very good distinction towards becoming a professional and is something I’ll be “consistently” working on this year. Your examples of the difference between wanting to accomplish a goal and taking action to fulfill them has allowed me to see the caveat towards success.

    • That’s great, Jennifer. Good luck with your goals in 2013!

      Feel free to share your success (or failures) here anytime. I’m happy to help.

  4. Have you ever encountered someone without a dream? Energy can be invested into the quest to find one or into acceptance of what is. Both require motivation/interest/energy. Does one’s personality have any bearing on what you would recommend?

    • Hmm, interesting question. I think at a fundamental level most of us want something. Whether we call it a dream or not, I’m not sure. But most of us want to get something out of life, find meaning in what we do on a daily basis, or improve in some fashion.

      As for personality dictating my suggestions, I would say yes and no. At a foundational level, I would say no. It doesn’t matter what type of personality you have, the only way to make things happen in your life is to take action. No action, no result. The way you take action, however, may differ based on your personality.

      Hopefully that gets your wheels turning. If you have more specific questions, I’m happy to toss out an answer for those. :)

  5. Cheers. Wheels are a’turnin! Just linked this into the bottom line: do I believe in myself? Daring to have a dream and acknowledge its existence is certainly, for me, linked to whether I trust that I will take the actions needed to get there. No dream. no action required. no failed attempt. But no success or joy.
    Thanks for this :-)

  6. I find that scheduling the important things in my life on my calendar is the only way to shield myself from the urgency of life. I treat the blocked out time like it was an important meeting, not allowing any distractions to permeate during that time.

    • Yep — this is a big lesson that I had to learn as well. Blocking off time to commit to yourself (just like you would when meeting with someone else) is a huge skill to learn. This is especially true if you’re self-employed or have a lot of freedom on your job.

      Thanks for reading, Tibor! It’s great to have you in our little community!

  7. Great reminder, thank you. Obsession brings productivity, at least for me. When I only focus on one major goal at a time it remains on my mind all the time, so I’m constantly coming up with new ideas or contributing to it, little by little. This is yet another reason why focusing on what’s important to you is so important. Losing that back-burner time to the urgent stuff can be quite costly.

    • So true. I’m the same way. I need a single-task focus and my results are much better. (Example: I’ve spent the last two hours answering comments.)

      Thanks for reading, Laura! It’s great to have you in our little community. Feel free to share your thoughts any time.

  8. Nice idea to follow one’s goals…but….

    I want to go freelance, but I have to consider my family. For example, if I finish one contract, my wife would be worrying that I won’t get another one for ages. Also I might have to work away from home. So for now I’m stuck with a mediocre job that just pays my wages but doesn’t really offer any promise of independence etc.

    • Hi Ed!
      There can be other ways to take actions than make your dream into your first job at once. For example, have you considered the possibility of a side job? I’m sure there are other possibilities too, maybe you should take some time to think about it, so that you don’t give up your dreams too soon :-)

    • Ed — I hear you. Handling responsibilities is tough and any goal worth pursuing will definitely take sacrifice.

      That said, there are ways to insulate yourself from the risk a little bit. When I started out as an entrepreneur, I had a 6-month safety net built up to give myself a little runway. I started a business with very low overhead. And in your case, you could moonlight on the side for awhile and build up a few clients, just to prove that it’s possible before making the leap.

      In any case, believe in yourself and good luck!

  9. James, I’m new to your emails but have read each one when they arrive. I have always wondered what holds me back and have found great insight in your posts. This one hit home. Thanks for making me take a closer look at ways to improve myself.


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