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ImportantNotUrgentEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s my New Year’s one, talking about one of Steven Covey’s principles in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

My favourite time of year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Everything shuts down, and our family cocoons together. Before Christmas is a huge rush, but after Christmas we lounge around, sleep in, and, my absolute favourite—play board games together.

It’s become a family tradition. Every year sees a new game under the Christmas tree, and then that game gets played, along with an assortment of other ones, over the next week or so. Sometimes friends join us, and sometimes it’s just the four of us, but it’s always a ton of fun.

What I will never understand, though, is why we don’t continue that fun into the year. We all love the games. We laugh, and create family memories, and make fun of certain family members who always get lucky—or never do. Yet once “real life” starts new, the games get stashed away into the cupboard, often to remain there for another year. Why?

About sixteen years ago I read a book that changed my life: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. One of the most important insights that he had was the idea of dividing everything we do into four categories, based on whether those things were important and urgent. So you could have urgent but not important (the phone’s ringing, and it’s a telemarketer), or you could have important but not urgent (spending time doing nothing with your teenage son). Then there are the “fires” in your life, those things that are both important and urgent, like dealing with a child’s suspension from school, or dealing with a spouse who just revealed they’re having an affair, or handling a family funeral.

Some fires can’t be avoided—the funeral, for instance—but others could likely have been prevented. And the way to prevent them is to spend more time doing things that are important but not urgent: those things that feed your soul and that feed your relationships. Read to your children. Start a hobby with your spouse. Talk to God. The more we centre ourselves, finding spiritual peace, and build into relationships, the fewer crises we will have in our lives.

But there’s a problem with these important but not urgent things, and it’s in the very definition of them: they aren’t urgent. There isn’t anyone forcing you to do them. And it’s so easy for the urgent-but-not-important things, like checking your Facebook notifications, or replying to tweets, or checking your texts, to get in the way of the important things—the people standing right in front of us.

The key thread throughout Covey’s book, in all seven habits, is the idea of intentionality. Nothing will get done just because we value it, or because we dream of it, or because we make Pinterest boards of it. It only gets done because we do it. After reading that book I did quit TV, but despite that as my teenagers have grown I’ve found it a challenge to prioritize those family times.

Why don’t we play family games during the year as much? Because nothing is forcing us to do it. And so when work and school schedules get busy, when friends want to talk on Facebook, when I have one more article to write, we tend to retreat to our own little worlds. And so often those, “I just need twenty minutes to finish this,” become two hours, and the night has evaporated.

7 HabitsThat’s not who I want to be. I want to be the Sheila that lives from Christmas to New Year’s, hanging out in fuzzy pyjamas with cups of hot chocolate and board games on the table. This year, I hope, I will be intentional enough not to neglect the important in favour of the urgent.

Check out Steven Covey’s the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People!

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