The Tyranny of the Urgent, a 1967 booklet by Charles Hummel, taught his Christian audience to navigate the constant tension between the urgent and the important. Here in the second decade of the 21st Century, continual change is the new now. That makes distinguishing the difference between the urgent and important more important than ever. Hummel’s book was prescient--regardless of one's creed.
Now we are assaulted by increasing waves of information and stimuli. Demands for immediate response. Lack of privacy. As a Christian writer, Hummel’s prescription was to temper our own compulsions and reactions to external pressures of the moment with personal spiritual inventory, and set priorities based on “prayerful waiting on God’s instruction.”
There’s a lot more to The Tyranny of the Urgent that Hummel applies to living a peaceful life through faith, but that’s not my point. What hooked me was our universal tendency to let the urgent get in the way of what’s important. With letting what is loudest, squeakiest, or shiniest deafen and blind us to what is in our long-term best interest.
Many of us who work in the highly charged, high stakes, relationship-intensive environment of schools have an especially difficult time telling the difference between the urgent and the important. It goes a long way in explaining why the best laid strategic plans "aft go awry." (Apologies to Scottish poet Robert Burns). And why they go into black binders on high shelves to die a slow death.
Someone once said, "Unsure of our direction, we double our speed." I love that quote. I see it in the schools and organizations I serve, and witness it daily in my own life.
What does this mean for school leaders? You need to be able to keep your focus on the outcome without getting nibbled to death by ducks. How do you do that? Set your priorities only after carefully and objectively (or as Hummel would say, "prayerfully") listening to those you serve and seek to serve. To again quote Burns, "O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us."
To escape from the the tyranny of the urgent, begin with reading my blog, The Yin and Yang of Education Marketing Innovation.