The Tyranny of The Urgent
Thank you for the feedback on You Really Need Some Therapy. I read each of your comments and deeply appreciate you giving me your time and thoughts.
In this issue of Zippy Turtle, we will dive into the tyranny of the urgent and how that manages the demands of living in an always-on society.
Read Time: 6 Minutes
“I haven’t collected my emails yet.”
That was the response I received when I followed up with the owner of the business I wanted to buy.
I had diligently done my research, poured over the business's finances, researched the industry, and started to create the five-year growth plan.
Then, I wrote a Letter of Intent and sent it to the owner in the afternoon.
I woke up the next morning, expecting to find an enthusiastic response. But as I scanned my email, there was no response from the business owner. I checked at 6:12 a.m., 6:48 a.m., 7:19 a.m., and 8:43 a.m. and continued this random pattern till 4:55 p.m. Then I picked up the phone and called him.
“Hi, Jim. This is Nick. I sent an LOI yesterday and wanted to see if you had any questions.”
“Oh, hi, Nick. I haven’t collected my email yet.”
This owner was quite a bit older than me, wildly successful (as verified by his 15,000 sqft house and PJ), and still sharp as a tack.
But I was caught off guard by his comment. At the same time that I had checked my email 57 times, he had yet to “collect his emails” once.
“Okay, when you get your emails, you’ll see my LOI, and I am happy to discuss it when convenient for you.”
Then I hung up.
Angela was standing by, wanting to hear what had transpired, and when I told her about my conversation, we both chuckled.
My mind wandered; what would it be like to only check your email once a day (or maybe less)?
I urgently checked my email, browsed X, scrolled Instagram, and consumed the Wall Street Journal and New York Times daily.
My relationship with urgency began in 2004 when I received a Palm Treo as a bonus for work well done. The Treo symbolized freedom to me because I could make conference calls from the golf course, respond to emails from anywhere at any time, and I could even order books from a new website called www.amazon.com
That phone was the symbol of freedom, but it actually was seeding in me an addiction. An addiction to urgency.
This worked out well when I was the CEO of a fledgling business. I was needed for urgent things most of my days, and while I was often exhausted, I liked being needed.
And when we sold that company, I struggled not being needed. So, I found creative ways to be needed. I played tricks in my mind and fell into the waiting arms of technology, creating a comfortable space in the form of “alerts.”
In the 1967 booklet Tyranny of the Urgent, Charles Hummel wrote about the difference between the urgent and the important.
Urgent things require your attention immediately. They cause us to react defensively and mistake their importance. “Alerts” are urgent things but are not necessarily important.
Important things, on the other hand, help drive us to long-term success in our lives. They help us achieve goals and live according to our values. They are rarely urgent.
This isn’t some rant about the evils of technology but rather how our boredom drives us right into the waiting arms of technology.
Even as I write this essay, one part of me wants to get this done, and the other part wants to turn on Sports Center while I scroll through Instagram.
I don’t like the feeling of boredom because it makes me feel helpless. It preys on the belief that I am in control of my kingdom, and it demands that I take action. Any kind of action. So, I control what I can, even if that action provides zero benefit.
It’s like I have two brains: one that can become incredibly focused, write books, create businesses, and incubate ideas that are percolating inside me. And then the other half wants nothing more than to sit in bed and gawk at videos of animals charging tourists in National Parks.
My brain sits in a 98-degree, completely dark pool of fluid with very few inputs from the outside environment. And as powerful as it is, it can also be very weak. I have to have the will to direct my brain to do what I want; otherwise, it will find the easiest path for its survival.
Which apparently, for me, is seeing tourists get attacked by animals.
In 4,000 Weeks Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman writes:
And isn't that what this all comes down to?
When I check my email, I am creating a sense of control in my life. Only, it is a big fat lie that my checking email has anything to do with control. It is instead an act that I have perfected that has become a cheap substitute for what is important.
I thought that Palm Treo would set me free.
Instead, I was voluntarily placing handcuffs on my wrists.
President Eisenhower said it best:
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a simple tool you can implement in your life today and offer it to you with the prayer that it will provide clarity in an otherwise opaque world.
Resources for your journey:
1) Lectio 365
This app does one thing well: It provides a 10-minute meditative devotional once a day. It is the perfect way to start your day that will allow to focus on the important things.
2) A passage from the late Cormac McCarthy to remind you that most business books suck and great novels provide greater wisdom:
3) A podcast episode to remind you of what is important
(bonus because Kate reminds me of one of my favorite humans, my sister April.)
I provide audacious coaching for courageous leaders. When you are ready, there are five ways I can help you grow:
Check out Nick’s Good Books for a free list of books to help you create a new lens in your life.
Private coaching as a Platinum Coaching Client.