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Clock and Compass
Oct 1, 1998

Addiction to Urgent Tasks

People like to be seen to be busy. If we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re embarrassed to admit it. Responsibility has become a sign of status. It gives us security, makes us feel good and is a nice excuse for occupying ourselves with priorities.

Most of the time we think that priorities are urgent. Being caught up in doing urgent tasks is like an addiction. It rules us and we don’t make time to ask if they’re really necessary. As a result, the gap between our clock and our compass, our time and our sense of direction, continues to widen. In fact, rather than doing a lot of work in a little amount of time, it is more important to do the right work in the right direction. Instead of spending our lives continually watching our clocks, we should occasionally glance at our compass.

‘Which activities do you believe will give positive results when done thoroughly and persistently?’

This question was put to thousands of people and the answers were grouped under these seven headings:

1- Increasing the quality of communication with people.

2- Making better preparation.

3- Making better planning and organization.

4- Making oneself tow the line.

5- Evaluating new opportunities.

6- Developing oneself.

7- Training others by giving them authority.

So why don’t people do these things? Maybe because they cannot be classed (or paid) as urgent tasks. Precisely because there is no pressure on us to do these things, it’s especially important to set aside time and give attention to them.

To Live, Love, Learn and Be Remembered Kindly

We have a physical need to live peacefully, a social need to love and be loved, a mental need to develop ourselves through learning and, by leaving behind a material or spiritual inheritance, a need to be remembered kindly.

These needs play a very important role in the quality of our lives. For example, let’s look at these questions: Do you have enough energy and physical capacity all day long? Or are there some things you would like to do but can’t because you’re tired, sick or inconvenienced?

Are you financially secure? Can you meet your own needs and put aside something for the future? Or, even though you work for many hours, are you still in debt?

Do you have healthy and fulfilling relationships with others? Are you able to work with others in a beneficial way to achieve common purposes? Or do you see yourself as alien, lonely, and distant from people you like, or unable to work well with others for reasons of misunderstanding, insincerity, back-biting, suspicion or shame?

Are you continually learning, developing yourself, and gaining fresh perspectives and new capabilities? Or do you feel unused, useless? Are there things you want to do but can’t because you don’t have the necessary education or talent?

Do you have a clear sense of direction, purpose or mission that inspires you and gives you energy? Or are you confused about what matters and what you really want to do in life?

Some needs are of literally vital importance. When they are not met, the quality of life declines, our energy and attention seem to be swallowed up by a black hole and we become addicted to urgent tasks.

But a man who meets his physical, social, mental and spiritual needs begins to burn internally with a flame of service. He turns such needs as money education, health and love into resources that will increase his capacity for service.

This person runs to help meet the physical, social, mental and spiritual needs of those in need. He serves saying ‘Yes!’ from his heart. This ‘Yes’ enables him to say ‘No’ to unnecessary jobs.

Roger Merrill speaks of an experience he had in one of his ‘Principle Centered Leadership’ programs: ‘One of those attending the course came up to me and said he wanted to talk about something. We sat on a terrace overlooking a beautiful lake and golf course. While looking at the man, I tried to guess what kind of problem he might have. He had an impressive personality. In his fifties, he was the vice-president of an international company and had a nice family. He was an active participant in the program and easily comprehended the topics. He made this confession: ‘This whole week live felt extremely uncomfortable. Everything began with that Monday evening exercise.’ Then he spoke to me about his life.

He grew up in a small town. He had been a good student and was active in social activities. In college he had taken on active responsibilities in many clubs and programs. Later he got a job and got married, their first child was born, he went abroad on business trips, he got promotions, they moved to a new house, they had a second child, he was promoted to vice-president. While listening to [all this], I was waiting for the problem, the catastrophe that had turned his life upside- down.

Finally he came to the point:

The problem is this: My life is full of wonderful things, a beautiful house, a good car a good job and a life full of responsibility. But if you tell me to think carefully about my life and to reveal what is really important to me, I couldn’t answer you.

As a youth, a university student and a young man, I had been busy with something most of my life. I wanted to make a real difference in this world and make a meaningful contribution to it.

When I started thinking about what was the most important thing to me, this feeling, this ideal-I don’t know how, but it got lost. It was as if I had deluded myself with a feeling of security. I hadn’t made a difference. I hadn’t taught my children how to make a difference. I only watched as my life flowed by.

Then a change took place in his face, and he continued:

But I made a decision. I decided to get in touch with a foundation that I had worked with before. They were giving unbelievable help to people in the third-world. I wanted to be a part of it.

There was a light in his eyes and a meaning of fixed purpose in his words. He had gained a tremendous amount of energy. The quality of his last few years before retirement and later years, the quality of his life and the lives of people in many places all over the world was going to be better. He would be able to leave a valuable legacy behind.’

The Difference Between Principles and Values

On a farm, productivity can’t be obtained with ‘fast and temporary precautions’. If seeds are not planted on time, and if hoeing, fertilizing, watering and spraying are neglected all year, it’s unrealistic to expect to get plentiful produce one day.

There is a basic difference between a social system and a natural system. The social system is built on values while the natural system is built on principles. In the short run, ‘fast and temporary precautions’ can be of benefit, but, in the long run, the ‘Law of Agriculture’ is operative in every realm of life. After years have passed the heart reaps what it has sown. Anyway a great number of problems arise from trying to harvest things that haven’t been sown.

In another seminar the following took place: ‘I joined a seminar where information regarding the subject of time was given. At one point the person giving the seminar said, “Yes, now I’m going to give a small exam.” He took a big jar with a wide mouth from under his table. Then he put beside it a large plate filled with rocks the size of a fist and asked, “How many of these rocks can we put in this jar?” After we made some guesses he said, “OK, let’s see.” He threw one rock into the jar, and then another, and another. I don’t remember how many but the jar was full. He asked us if the jar was full. Looking at the rocks, we all answered, “Full.”

‘Then he took a cup of pebbles out from under the table. The pebbles filled the spaces between the rocks. Smiling, he again asked, “Is the jar full?” This time we said, “We guess not.”“Good”, he said and took a small bucket of sand from under the table and emptied it into the jar. The sand filled up the empty spaces. He asked one more time whether or not the jar was full. “It’s not full!” we all shouted. “Good,” he said and took a pitcher of water and poured it into the far. Then he asked what kind of lesson could be learned from this. Someone replied, “There are empty spaces in life, and we can fill them if we want to.” He said, “No,” and continued, “The real point is: If we hadn’t put in the first rocks, could we have added the others? Because most people act with the paradigm the more, the beter in order to do a lot in a short time, they fill up their time as much as possible. But if the things we do are not really what are important to us, does it matter how much more we work?’”

So this means that what we should put first in the jar of life are not ordinary tasks, but principles and activities that give us vision and mission and develop and renew us. After that man will be surprised to see what else he’s able to put in the empty spaces.

Being Able to be the Leader in our life

Managers deal with processes, and leaders deal with targets. Managers work ‘in’ the system, and leaders work ‘above’ it. Managers consider if they have done work in the right way, and leaders consider if they have done the right work. In a sense managers climb a ladder leaning on a wall. The number of steps on the ladder, its length and speed of climbing are important to them. For a leader it’s important whether or not the ladder is leaning against the right wall. Climbing a ladder leaning on the wrong wall can cost a man a lot. This true story is an example:

Many years ago a man told his friends and neighbors that his goal was to earn one million dollars that year. He was an innovator believing in the motto, Give me a good idea, and I’m ready to sell a million of them. Developing a kind of toy and getting the patent, he began to travel all over the country to market it. From time to time he would take one of his children with him for a few weeks. His wife would complain about the situation and say, ‘When the children come back from traveling with you, they neglect their prayers and don’t do their homework. They have fun for a whole week. You’re not helping them so why don’t you leave them at home?’

Finally a year passed. The man announced that he had reached his goal. He had earned a million dollars. However, a short time later he divorced his wife. Two of his children began to use drugs. The other lost his reason and fell into a depression. The whole family was torn apart. The man had set only one goal and made all his calculations according to that. But he hadn’t calculated the total cost. One million dollars had cost him a rot.

What Chinese Bamboo Has to Tell Us

After Chinese bamboo is planted, it develops underground for four years. Above ground only a small shoot can be seen. In the fifth year it grows to a height of 25 meters above ground.

Those who can be leaders in life, those who spend their lives centered on principles, know that they cannot get easy results. They are willing to pay a heavy price because they believe they will eventually get results.

They are patient, calm, humble and determined, like the soil. They know they cannot reach a valuable result with worthless means. It is in our own hands to be born again, escape conditioning and listen to the voice of our conscience.

Regardless of the results, it is possible to listen, not to this or that, or the noise of the crowd, but to the voice of our conscience and act accordingly. Then we won’t fear the results. Time will become our friend, not our enemy, because life will offer us the sweet fruit of the produce we patiently and carefully sowed and cultivated. In such a life, time is not expended, it turns into investment. The cultural heritage we leave to following generations will increase.

As Bryant S. Hinckley said:

Service to others is an attribute of great characters. It pins the Medal of Honor on the disciples. It is a line separating the two big groups of this world: those who help to contribute and those who become an obstacle and only consume. How much better it is to give than receive. Serving others is a delicate virtue. Giving courage, showing interest, removing fear, raising hope in hearts, in short, to love and show it is the most valuable service to mankind.