Simply asking what’s important can help you see when some things clearly aren’t.1 This status becomes still clearer when you look more closely at things like quantity, duration, context, and interest or agency.
For all that, though, what do you do if “what’s important” is still too much?
You’re already avoiding what’s neither important nor urgent. And you’re making headway on saying “no” to what’s merely urgent but not important.
But what do you do if you’re still in a place where there’s too much that you find important to do it all justice?
When what’s important feels like too much …
It’s a good time to pray. As the psalmist says, “by my God I can leap over a wall.”2
But that should go without saying, and it should be a regular part of your spiritual life even when things don’t feel like they’re too much. The reality is that life can go from manageable to overwhelming both slowly and instantaneously. So, you need to navigate the whole prayerfully.
In addition, laborare est orare, “work is prayer.” And here I’ll focus on the kind of work you can prayerfully do when even the comparatively few truly important things get to be too much.
In this context, several particular strategies can help. The first one I discuss more below, and the remaining ones I’ll address in coming weeks.
- Watching for importance creep helps you distinguish grey areas at the border of the important and the unimportant.
- Recognizing degrees of importance and respecting your limits allows you to discern differences in layers of importance in different contexts. And
- Focusing on what’s important about what’s important helps you see when things that are actually important sometimes have things that aren’t nestled inside.
Watch for importance creep.
Asking better questions can give you a clearer picture of what’s actually important. But sometimes, the dividing line between “important” and “not important” can still appear blurry.
This blurriness can make us feel that some things are important, even when they actually aren’t. This dynamic is “importance creep.”
Importance creep comes from unexamined bleed over from “interest” into “importance.” It causes you to focus on areas of concern that stretch beyond what you actually have control over—your areas of influence.3
Unfortunately, the more effort you spend spinning your wheels in this margin, the less you’ll be able put into the things you can control.
The result is that your area of influence shrinks and the disparity between your areas of concern and your areas of influence grows. Or you might shrink your areas of concern to match the shrinking in your ability to affect them.
Either one is a downward spiral. So, you need to watch for when you might be considering something as important that almost has that status, but not quite.
Even when you prioritize what’s important and cut what isn’t, life can be overly full. Sometimes, that over-fullness comes about because interest can feel like importance.
But learning to distinguish the two and focus on what you have influence over can help clarify your definition of what importance really looks like.
2 Sam 22:30; Ps 18:29 ESV. ↩
For these categories and a helpful description of the basic dynamics among them, see Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 88–101. ↩