Monday, August 13, 2007

Urgent is Not the Same as Important

For the last couple months I’ve felt like a cartoon character dashing away inches ahead of the avalanche. My first thought on waking this Sunday morning was “gotta check my email.” I nearly jumped out of bed before checking myself. I tried to lay in bed, reminding myself I had a free day. Pretty soon I was strategizing how to exploit it fully. Get a jump on that new script. Email the guy about the job. Update the blog. Tweak the Google ad. Find the stock footage. I’m exhausted, and I can’t stop thinking about work.

Of course, there’s not a single thing there that can’t wait until Monday. There’s not a single thing there that shouldn’t wait until Monday. I’ve been going nuts to get back to my creative writing and my book for the past week. I decided there would be no email on this Sunday. No computer. Just my own script and Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro.

If I’ve learned one lesson, it’s never to put what’s urgent ahead of what’s important. I’ve learned this lesson many, many times. I’ve also forgotten it many, many times. But inevitably when I do what’s important, the urgent takes care of itself.

What’s important to me is all about stories. You don’t hear good stories if you don’t listen. You don’t write good stories unless you listen to yourself. You can’t listen to anything without concentration. And real concentration requires peace and attention to basic needs. Real concentration is the only thing that overcomes resistance.

It’s way too easy to let your resistance guide you away from what’s important and right into what’s urgent. I know few writers who wouldn’t identify this as a major problem. I still fall into the problem all the time.

But I do manage to maintain for stretches of time. I spend enough time writing my own stuff. I get the joy out of it, and the spontaneous, visual answers that are always better than the carefully constructed dialogue. I sketch out the new ideas that have piled up in the journal. I see the movies and plays I want to see. I take care of my relationship. I exercise. I play. I cook. I’m energized at the end of the day.

The funny thing is that what’s urgent also works better when I have the focus on the important. My clients get better work. I meet other writers and filmmakers at events. I get new ideas. I’m happier sitting at my desk, and so I work more efficiently.

I wish I understood better why the urgent has such power over the important. It shouldn’t, but for me it does sometimes. For now I’m making a rule for myself. No computer on Sunday. One day a week just for what’s important.

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