On Being Proactive

Make time to sharpen your saw.
Make time to sharpen your saw.

The late Dr. Stephen Covey suggested that one of the biggest problems with our current world is that people are reactive and not proactive. This is because we tend to get ourselves into activities that fail to give us the time to prioritize our most meaningful life tasks by keeping us in a rush with arbitrary deadlines and busy work. Dr. Covey asked us to consider not only the urgency but also the importance of those things we do each day. To help us better understand this, he suggested we categorize each task into one of four quadrants: Important & urgent, important & not urgent, not important & urgent, and not important & not urgent . He believed that many of our problems stem from not putting time into those tasks which are not urgent, but which are nonetheless very important. Traditionally, the function of the sabbath was to make time for those things which were not pressing but were still important: However, these days even Sundays are hectically busy with pressing logistics. Dr. Covey asked us to have the courage to say “no” to pressing (less important) things in order to spend some time each week on those things (in Quadrant II of the image) that are not urgent, but are still important in the long term.

Every community has leaders who rise to power for any number of reasons: money, influence, ambition… Occasionally, such leaders also have the virtues of good judgment and authentic concern for the long term interests of those whom they serve. One big problem today is that so many leaders keep everyone so busy with urgent matters that they spend no time in Quadrant II. Since spending time in Quadrant II is what separates a free person from a slave, those leaders that keep people busy with the other three quadrants should be known as public tyrants rather than public servants. History teaches us that those communities who have chosen leaders that recognize the importance of Quadrant II have been more sustainable and more at peace because the leaders have respected the freedom of individuals to say “no” to things that would keep them from spending time in Quadrant II.

Because it is recognized that spending time reflecting on important, but abstract issues is important for the long term survival of any people, it should come as no surprise that geopolitical tacticians have for thousands of years written about how to subvert this proper allocation of time in order to destroy peoples. Something to think about as…

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