How Living In the Urgent Can Kill Your Creativity

And how to reclaim your life from the stress...

If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s excellent book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you’re missing out.  Out of the many helpful things in the book, here’s one I have found most useful:  Covey’s distinction between URGENT things and IMPORTANT things.

  • Urgent things shout at you – flashing lights, ringing phones.
  • Important things will not – maintenance, relationships, planning.
  • Urgent and Important things must be done or things will fall apart immediately.
  • Important, not Urgent things must be done or things will fall apart eventually.
  • Urgent and Important things are like filling up with gas when you’re on empty.
  • Important things are like changing the oil after 3,000 miles.

He draws a matrix like this:

Quadrant 2 graphic

As you can see, Quadrant 1 is Urgent & Important.  Quadrant 2 is Important, but not Urgent.

Now, think about your life in terms of this diagram.

I think of Sunday as a Quadrant 1 day.   If you don’t lead worship, don’t preach… if you fail to do whatever your core activities are, there will be an immediate negative effect.  Some activities eventually change quadrants.  For instance, sermon prep is a Quadrant 2 activity, but Saturday night… it’s moved up.

Here’s why it’s better to do activities while they’re still in Quadrant 2:

1. Living in Quadrant 1 is exhausting.

Living your whole life in Quadrant 1 means you’ll be like Mario, leaping from crisis to crisis, barely escaping destruction at each turn, always inches from disaster.

It means not being able to sleep because of the stress of upcoming deadlines.

That’s exhausting.  Better to live in Quadrant 2, where you do important things before they move into Quadrant 1.

2. Relaxed thinking is better than crisis thinking.

You do better quality thinking when you’re relaxed.  Research is clear: You make better quality decisions when your stress is lower.

In his ground-breaking book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells of a study where college students were brought to a snack table, and offered a choice between healthy snacks (fruit, etc) and unhealthy snacks (cookies, cupcakes).  Half of the students were given a phone number to memorize and repeat back after the snack.  Those students were much more likely to choose the unhealthy snack.  Why?  They defaulted, under even that mild stress, to choosing what was immediately rewarding, instead of what was smarter.

3. Creativity flows better when you are not in urgent mode.

Ever think that your creativity goes up right before the deadline?  It doesn’t.  Your desperation does.  You may produce, but it’s not your creativity that gets your sermon finished!  It’s shame, and the potential embarrassment of having nothing to say.

It’s not more creative, it’s just… finished.

Instead, take time and focus early in the week to get in a creative flow.  (I’ll be writing more on this soon.)  You may not think of yourself as a particularly creative person, but I bet that you’re more creative when you aren’t “under the gun.”

4. Creativity is useless when you have no time left to execute.

In Quadrant 2, when you think of a really creative way to present a sermon, you can do it.  You can find that prop, create that Powerpoint, locate that great historical story, find that song that complements, think of that person whose testimony should be shared.

But in Quadrant 1, even if you think of it, you often don’t have enough time to do anything about it. I’ve been there too many times, finishing up a sermon on Sunday morning, when I realized – “You know what would be GREAT?!… ah, never mind, I don’t have time to do that this morning!”

Don’t do it.  Commit to living in the Important, not Urgent.

One final thought:

“What if I’m already overwhelmed?  How do I get into Quadrant 2 when Quadrant 1 is already so full?”

I’m glad you asked.  You can’t just stop doing Quadrant 1 activities.  Everything would fall apart, because they really ARE important!  There are only 2 places that you can find time to do Quadrant 2 activities at first: Quadrants 3 & 4.

Here’s what that might look like:

  • Turn off the phone.
  • Block Netflix.
  • Shut off talk radio.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Use Stayfocusd to keep off Facebook.
  • Get off Youtube.
  • Turn off your wireless access altogether for 3 hours.

And do something Quadrant 2.  Like this:

  • Prepare for NEXT week’s message.
  • Prep for a series that’s a month away on your sermon calendar.
  • Invest in a key relationship.
  • Learn something new.
  • Do that item you’ve been putting off.
  • Check your calendar for tomorrow.
  • Schedule lunch with someone.
  • Pray.

I think you’ll find that if you’ll do this for a week, Quadrant 1 will be slightly smaller, and Quadrant 2 will be slightly larger.

Now, imagine 6 months from now, if you did that every day!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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