Focus on what’s important, not urgent
Back in the days when American presidents didn’t spend literally every waking hour gratifying their appetite for cruelty or cheeseburgers, Dwight Eisenhower came up with a classic time management technique, later named the Eisenhower Matrix. His point, in short, was that every potential activity is either urgent or not, and either important or not. Life’s primary challenge is to make time for the important stuff that isn’t urgent, even though it doesn’t feel pressing, while avoiding the urgent stuff that isn’t important, even though it does feel pressing.
But a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research confirms what I’ve long suspected: when urgency rears its head, we become even less rational than Eisenhower knew. Researchers created situations in which they eliminated all those justifications for choosing the urgent over the important – level of difficulty, immediacy of payoff, etcetera – and found people still chose the more urgent option. In other words, even if some task on your to-do list isn’t easier, and isn’t a better way to please your boss or keep yourself solvent or anything else – even if there’s no reason to do it other than that someone’s persuaded you it’s “urgent” – you’ll still be biased in its favour.
When it comes to getting our priorities straight, we’re like the target market for those dodgy ads for commemorative royal wedding plates or battery-powered avocado-slicers, available at a discount while stocks last. It’s fake urgency, yet it works: act now, or you’ll miss out! Oh, you didn’t need or want it in the first place? Never mind! Act now!
Yet merely knowing about our tendency to prioritise urgency over importance rarely leads to better choices. That’s because the knowing is intellectual, whereas urgency is an emotional or even bodily matter: you act from a twinge of discomfort, a clench in the stomach, a racing heart. The best trick I’ve found is to practise consciously distrusting those feelings: to learn to treat the sense of urgency as a sign something probably isn’t the best use of your time. (You might still decide de to act on it, of course, but you’ll be doing so more rationally.) Besides, es, even when there’s a legitimate reason for acting on urgency, you’re probably overestimating its significance. As author Tim Ferriss has written, it’s worth learning to “let small bad things happen”, so that big good things s eventually come to pass. There are many situations in which you need eed to act fast if you want to avoid a negative outcome. But if that negative outcome doesn’t matter much, ch, avoiding it might not be the best t use of your time.
A letter to … my therapist, whom I fell in love with
After 12 weeks of counselling, I felt strong. You had brought out a side of me I didn’t know I had – and you were about to leave my life permanently. How could I say goodbye to someone like that?
Unable to sleep, I Googled “falling in love with your therapist”. I discovered that it is a common phenomenon called transference. I was projecting my baggage on to you. I understood that what I felt wasn’t real.
I didn’t know you at all, but you knew everything about me, all of my darkest and most pathetic impulses, and still you treated me with respect and admiration. I felt a fool.
Telling you I loved you was brutal. I hunted desperately for words that would soften the humiliation.
You were so kind. You soothed me. You hugged me goodbye, the first and only time we would ever touch, and kissed me on the head. I had no words, bu but it didn’t matter; you kne knew.
It was like a bereavement, losing you. Life goes on, with it its trials and tribula tribulations; and when I wonder what you w would say, what emotio emotion I would read i in those brown eyes, the pain takes my b breath away, even now. It no longe longer matters wheth whether what I felt was real, r or transferenc ference, or both. I just miss you, and
t that’s all.