As you separate from or eliminate the unimportant, even what remains can be a challenge.1 You can start addressing that challenge by distinguishing interest from importance and focusing on what you can influence.
Beyond that, you can recognizing that there are degrees of importance and that you have some very clear limits. Doing so will help you discern differences in layers of importance in different contexts.
Recognize degrees of importance.
The fact that some things are closer to or farther from being important implies that importance itself isn’t a binary. “Important” and “not important” are helpful core categories. But each of them contains a gradation.
It might be “important” for you to be writing a paper. But when you go into labor—or your spouse does—it becomes very clear very fast that a new baby is more important than a new page of writing.
Respect your limits.
You only have 168 hours in a week. For a good amount of that time, you have a physiological need to be unconscious.
The same was true even for Jesus. Being finite, having limits is part of what it means to be human.
Just because you judge something to be important doesn’t mean you have the bandwidth to invest in it. And if you find you don’t, you may need to recalibrate and tighten up your sense of what it means for something to qualify as important.
As you do, you may find that some things were only just apparently important. But on closer inspection, they’re actually not important.
That status of “not important” might be permanent. You might recognize that you don’t actually need something in your life that you thought you did.
Or the status of “not important” might not be absolute but might, in a bigger picture, just mean “less important.” For example, if your writing a paper gets interrupted by a new baby’s birth, the paper will—at some point—cycle back into being important.
“Important” doesn’t just mean “worthwhile.” Something is important or has more importance only when it’s worthwhile and deserves priority.
You might not be able to give something priority even if you recognize that it’s worthwhile in principle.
If you had no limits, you wouldn’t have to make that distinction. But because you do have limits, what you decide to prioritize has to fit within those limits. Otherwise, you’re back in for the downward spiral of “importance creep.”
Life can easily get quite full. If you’re discerning about including what’s important and excluding what isn’t, that can help ensure everything fits together at the end of the week.
But sometimes “life happens” in larger ways, and even just what’s important can all feel like too much. In these cases, recognizing both the relative importance of different things and the different limits that you have can help you discern and emphasize what’s most important amid everything else.
Header image provided by Benjamin Salvatore. ↩