Pretty Colors And Flashing Lights

Pretty Colors

Have you ever played just one game of Candy Crush or watched just one episode of your favorite show? And somehow just one drains your battery and sucks up a few hours of your time?

You must choose to proceed before each new game or episode, so why is it so dang hard to say no?

And what can you do about it?

You’re In Good Company

Even leaders from Aristotle to Eisenhower have struggled with the distinction between Urgent and Important.

Urgent issues are in-your-face, right now! limited time only, and your last chance! final notice!!!

They’re pretty, flashy, or loud. Or they’re roadblocks between you and the important things you’re trying to do–like pop-up windows on your computer–and you just want them to go away.

They require you to be reactive, which is not the ideal way to make choices. Urgent issues are fires that must be extinguished NOW! They lead to snap decisions like inadvertently restarting your computer in the middle of a presentation that are often poor solutions.

Important issues can change your life in significant ways, but they’re often not very sexy. They require you to be proactive, which can be hard when you’re distracted by urgent matters.

Here’s how to deal with them:

Important And Urgent

  • These must be addressed quickly.Fire!
  • If you handle the other categories well, there shouldn’t be many issues here.
  • Includes true crises like natural disasters, medical emergencies, car accidents, etc.

These are true fires. Drop everything else and solve these problems first. Once you and your loved ones are safe, then move on to other categories.

Important But Not Urgent

  • Hint: this is the most important category.Right Now?
  • Requires proactivity. If you don’t schedule them, they won’t happen.
  • Includes making time for relationships, writing a will, purchasing insurance, saving for retirement/kids’ college, exercising, planing vacations, etc.

Some of these activities are one-and-done. In addition to being beneficial activities on their own, getting them off your to-do list will help relieve stress.

Urgent But Not Important

  • These drain your time and energy but don’t really matter. It looks like your life is on fire, but it’s an illusion.
  • Eliminate, minimize, or delegate these. Don’t let other people’s priorities trump yours.
  • Includes Facebook/Twitter/other app notifications, limited-time sales on items you don’t need, most phone calls, most meetings, most interruptions, most news, etc.

If you have to address these, schedule time when it’s convenient for you and set a limit. Don’t leave yourself at their beck and call all day long.

Neither Urgent Nor Important

  • These truly waste your time and energy.Spam
  • Eliminate these. Press delete. Throw them away. Ignore them.
  • Includes junk mail, excess TV or internet browsing, spam emails, etc.

It’s okay to do some of these activities, but schedule them into your relaxation time. Don’t let their busy-ness fool you into thinking they’re productive or necessary in and of themselves, and beware of the countless advertisements typically included.


What are your time suckers? What have you been surprised you could eliminate without missing it? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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Comments 11

  1. I like the title you chose for this post. I get worried every time I hear more evidence that those pretty colors and flashing lights (often coming from our cell phones) are changing the way our brains work. I think focusing on that Important, Not Urgent category as you suggest is the only way to achieve peace and create a meaningful life.

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      Yes, Clearwing. Thosse are often the things that slip through the cracks, but they’re also the ones that, if done, help us sleep better at night. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. We just realized that we haven’t turned the TV on in a few weeks. We’ve spent our evenings enjoying our back sunroom area rather than sitting on the couch with the TV on. TV is definitely a time suck in the winter though! I know we will be watching the Olympics soon too. Even though it isn’t really “urgent” – it is important to me. That important but not urgent category is definitely where we need to focus!

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  3. My time sucker is going on Youtube and watching videos for a good hour. Instant gratification plus the fact that I know exactly what kind of video I’m watching makes it worse. I pop a video up when I’m eating on my Mac then after I finish eating I still stay and watch more videos which gets me sucked in. I don’t know what else to do during my eating time and I have to think of more creative ways during my meal times.

    1. I read magazines when eating sometimes, but it is actually pretty pleasant to just eat i.e. look at your food, enjoy it’s taste, texture, color and so on. I think mealtimes are a good opportunity to take a time some out from doing anything at all.

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      I’m all for mindful eating in theory, but in practice when I eat alone it’s often at my computer like you. Do you use one of the plugins that lets you adjust the speed? At least that way you can watch the videos twice as fast or watch twice as many.

  4. When we watch Trailer Park Boys (the most stupid, degenerate show, and yet we’re addicted) on Netflix we have to accept that we’ll kill an hour-plus. We can never watch just one. And if we watch Columbo we MUST turn it off before a second episode plays. Those suckers are long!

    At least since we cut the cord we don’t watch much tv except for documentaries. We save the series episodes for the weekend.

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  5. Great distinction between what’s important, urgent and what needs to just go! Thanks for sharing – it’s a good reminder. Several years ago, I decided to go on a news diet and haven’t looked back. The news is generally so negative – I still know enough of what’s going on to stay informed, but don’t read/watch news at all. Plus, I probably watch 3 hours of tv (HGTV!) every week, which frees up time for reading, learning, gardening, etc.!

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      Amanda, you make a great point! There’s so much ‘news’ that isn’t really news, like who’s wearing what and who’s dating whom, that just doesn’t matter at all. Then there’s other tragic news that’s outside our circle of influence. Like you said, it’s important to stay informed, but there’s no need to follow every juicy detail when it’s out of our hands.

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