Time is the most valuable resource we will ever possess. Among so many resources that we can have as human, what is the single resource that can create everything else? Knowledge? Money? Friends? Imagine this. If you have all the money in the world, can you buy time? And yet, with lots of time, we can build up our knowledge, we can accumulate all the money we want & build as much relationship/friendship that we want. Indisputable, time has always been & will always remain the most valuable resource human can have. Yet, it never fails to baffles me whenever I see young people wasting this precious ‘time’ away.

When I was in my undergraduate years, I have read a very famous book “7 habits of Highly Effective People”. This book opens up my understanding for many things but I would like to highlight my main take-away from this incredibly practical book – “The difference between urgent & important issue”. You see, it’s easy to agree to my saying “time is the most valuable resource”, yet, how do we put it into action? How can we visualize what to do in-line with the understanding of this saying? An easy way would be “O, I will study very hard to make full use of my time”. Seriously? Define study hard. Read for 8 hours daily? Nah, this is too vague & to be honest, nobody will be able to adhere to this more than 3 days. This is where this book I read (7 habits of highly effective people) helps.

This book highlights 7 different habits & one of those habits is for us to realize the difference between ‘urgent’ issues versus ‘important’ issues. And a good habit is then to always focus on the ‘important’ issues. Let me try to use my own words to explain this difference. You see, ‘urgent’ issues are things that we need to dealt with immediately. It has a very short time-frame & you have got to do it either now, or within this few days. You cannot delay it longer than 1 week, otherwise, the consequences will be severe. Example of ‘urgent’ issues include:-

–          Doing your homework.

–          Submit report for your boss.

–          Paying your monthly phone bills.

–          Sending money to your parents.

–          Fixing that broken toilet.

If you read the issues above, you could be thinking, “Hey, that sounds like something I must do. Why did you say we should not do it?” Actually, I didn’t say that. What I am saying is, in terms of priority, the issues above should be less prioritized. Why? Because there are other issues which are much more important than the above. And these are the ‘important’ issues. ‘Important’ issues are something that have a much longer & deeper impact on us, if we choose not to do it. ‘Important’ issues usually have a much longer term time-frame, which makes us think that we can delay doing it. Some people just kept delaying to do ‘important’ issues, that they don’t even care after! I list down some examples of ‘important’ issues below:-

–          Household finance budgeting.

–          Study to get ready for that university entrance examination.

–          Read books to increase one’s knowledge on any particular subject.

–          Learn about investments.

–          Set aside money for monthly savings/retirement/child education fund.

–          Think about long term career goals.

Being able to work on the ‘important’ issues will change our lives for the better. If you notice the trend, ‘important’ issues usually have got to do with planning, strategizing and long term goals. In fact, I honestly believe that if anyone can constantly plan well, there will not be much ‘urgent’ issues at hand. Have you met anyone in your life that is forever rushing for the next thing to do? Forever busy & everything seemed urgent for him/her? Why is that so? Most of the time, it is because he/she fails to plan before-hand. That’s why they are always trying to ‘save fire’. You see, if you never anticipate ‘fire’ in your house & did nothing to prevent it, of course a ‘fire’ will break out one day & when it does, for sure you will be rushing to extinguish it. How about the opposite? Have you met anyone who is usually calm, steady & always seemed to be in control of his life? He is usually free to meet you (if he wants) & ever ready to spend his time to listen/help you. How can he do that? That is because he is able to handle his own matters well. He planned before-hand and most times, able to anticipate many things before it gets to a ‘fire’ situation. The easiest scenario to describe this is a student studying to prepare for his final examination. Student A never really prepare for his exams and during the last month before the date, he will stay up late & give up everything in his life to study very hard for it. Student B has always been keeping up with his studies & constantly revising his homework, thus during his last month, he will still be able to sleep early, do sports & watch tv for a more balanced lifestyle. In the end, Student B will always come out the winner, whether it’s the exam grades or in life. Now, my question is, what is Student A doing with all his free time months before the examination?

We have must have come across many Student A in our life. Some Student A chose to waste their time away during those free days to have fun, play, enjoy life etc. Yet, we do know that some Student A used those time on other priorities in their life such as helping parents, working part-time, doing housework, etc etc. Yes, these are the less-fortunate Student A & life circumstances forces them to spend their time doing something else instead of studying for exams. It could be because their family is poor, or perhaps the parents don’t care for their studies or they want more money as they are greedy. Whatever the reason is, the fact is, they have spent their time on ‘urgent’ issues & thus, have neglected the ‘important’ issue – to study for exam. Sometimes, in life, we do not have a choice but for most times, we make our own choices. If our parents are so poor that we must work part-time after school to get that extra money for food on table, ok fine. Do it because otherwise, everyone starve & without food, what is the point of studying. Yet, there are many cases where we can actually make a hard choice. If you are born in a family that is ok but the parents do not believe in studying & they force you to help out in their small business after school. You can make a hard choice to go against your parents & insist you want to stay at home to study. Must you listen to your parents if you know that they are wrong? No. In fact, I did that when I was 16 years old to my 2nd uncle. My 2nd uncle has my interest at heart & he wanted me to help out at his electrical shop after school. He thinks it is good training for a young boy to help out at shop, to meet people & to understand business. All is fine until I realized that my grades are falling. Thus, one day, I confronted my uncle & told him that I could no longer help him after school. When he asked why, I explained to him that I needed to focus on my study. He was stumped for a while & must be thinking that I made up this reason so that I can relax after school. Fortunately, he was not my father & he knew that he has to show some leniency. So, in the end, he countered by saying that he is sure I will not be studying all the time after school. He proposed that I help at his shop for 3 hours after school & then I can go to study after. I agreed because I want to show him my determination to study. And he is right that I will not be studying from 1pm to 3pm, since I was planning to nap. Anyway, in the end, I stick to my schedule of working few hours & studied from 3pm onwards religiously everyday for more than 1 year. I ended up being the top student in my school in 1999. With that result, I was admitted to a local university. And this changed my life for the better.

The moral of this story is, go against ANYTHING if you know that it is not right. I knew immediately that helping my uncle at his shop is just not important & it is mostly ‘urgent’ because he needed extra helpers. Is that my problem? No, because it is not my business. My business is to study hard & get good results to go into university. That is ‘important’ to me. Thus, I focus on that & pushed the ‘urgent’ business back to my uncle. He was not happy, but I knew I was right, so it doesn’t matter to me whether he is happy or not.

When you are doing something everyday and it doesn’t change your life for the better, you know that it is not ‘important’. If someone told you that it is ‘urgent’ & you must do it (cannot miss), you know it’s time you re-focus & think about your priority to do the ‘important’. We must always be brave to challenge anything that is not right. And we can use this concept in every aspect of our life from our relationship with parents, going against moral authority, planning for our future (like in Leip Ho case), planning for our children (like my mum’s case), etc etc.