What’s Most Important about What’s Important?

When you feel like what’s important is too much just by itself, sometimes you need to tighten the scope of what makes something important.1

Or it might help to recognize that there are ultimately degrees of importance. Those different degrees prioritize different things in different contexts.

What doesn’t fit in the limits of life in one context might still be important. You might just have to put off prioritizing it.

But there’s another strategy you can adopt when a life full of just the important things feels overly full. That is, you can recognize that not everything about what’s important is equally important.

What’s Important Sometimes Contains What Isn’t

In your research, for example, you need to interact with good sources and document them well. A guide like the SBL Handbook of Style might tell you what “documented … well” looks like. But how you get your documentation into that shape is secondary.

So, you could type each footnote one by one and meticulously check that formatting against your style guide. If you do so, your effort has exactly a 1 to 1 correspondence with your results. One footnote typed and meticulously checked gets you … the chance to do exactly the same thing with the next footnote.

Or you could invest a bit of effort into learning a citation manager like Zotero. That’s a bit more complex than typing, so there’s some overhead in getting started.

To cite a source, you can create and meticulously check one Zotero record. But once that record is there and structured properly, Zotero can prepare corresponding footnotes without limit. And it can automatically edit your footnotes if you need to change from one style (e.g., SBL) to another (e.g., Chicago).

What’s essential about good documentation isn’t your method in preparing your footnotes. It’s the copiousness, clarity, and consistency of those notes. And you can make what’s important (e.g., good documentation) less burdensome by optimizing for what’s important about it (e.g., the final product).

Just because something is important doesn’t mean it has to be burdensome. As Greg McKeown helpfully ponders,

What could happen in your life if … the essential things became easier?2

And a prime way they can become easier is by focusing on what’s essential about them.


Sometimes, everything in life all together can just get to be too much. Separating yourself from what’s urgent but not important can help.

But if you find yourself having too much that’s important, focusing on what’s important about it can help lighten the load. It can help you discern where the unimportant or unessential might live inside the important or the essential.

The questions you ask determine the answers you can get. So, as you hone your focus still more on what exactly is important about essential things, you may well encounter answers that make those essential things also more doable.

  1. Header image provided by Bekky Bekks

  2. Greg McKeown, Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most (New York: Currency, 2021), 14. This core theme runs throughout Effortless in different iterations in the book’s various chapters. 

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