Urgent vs. Important: A Snow Day Challenge

Snow DayIt’s no secret that the stock market has been pretty crummy in 2016. My younger sister Allegra is in college, without much of a vested interest in these things yet, and I just texted her to ask what the stock market has done this year. Her verbatim response was: “I think it’s been kinda all over the place? And it tanked recently? Oil prices or something.”

First of all, that is probably the best analysis of the 2016 stock market I’ve read in these 22 days of January, and I’ve read a lot of them. Honest, succinct, no jargon or fluff, and best of all, she didn’t yell it at me like those people on CNBC yell their words. It could almost be a haiku.

Secondly, given its apparent ubiquity, what more is there to write about this “kinda all over the place,” “tanked recently” stock market? In our three blog posts this year, we’ve talked about the importance of making sure there is no more risk in your portfolio than is absolutely necessary to do the things that you value most highly. We discussed the idea of stress-testing the plan you have in place so that you can be proactive in the face of personal or market-related change. And in the Beacon Flash on Wednesday of this week we addressed some of the current and historical context for the drop we have seen in stocks. Like many truths, these will bear repeating from time to time.

But today I want to draw your attention to a piece that Seth Godin wrote this week on “Deconstructing urgent vs. important.” In it he posits that many of the things that demand the most of our time, that are the loudest and the most likely to cause high blood pressure–these aren’t necessarily the important things. They’re the urgent things. I highly recommend you read the piece, and then I want to leave you with a challenge:

What if we began to filter our consumption of stock market-related news, discussion, fear, and greed through the question, “Is this Important, or is it merely Urgent?”

Sometimes it really will be Important, but I think quite often we will find it merely Urgent–clamoring for attention, but ultimately distracting us from what matters most. For example, you may see (and have seen several times this year) that the Dow is down big–is that Important, or Urgent? Well, first of all, does your portfolio have the same makeup as the Dow (30 of the largest US companies)? If not, then that widely quoted information is probably not important. Second of all, it’s wise to remember that your portfolio should never do the driving: you, and the plan that was designed for you, should do the driving.

In other words, the world of planning and investing is much like traveling by car in North Carolina this morning. Snow and sleet and freezing rain are falling in varying degrees across the state, and your local radio station is likely devoting much of its air time to reports of wrecks and traffic on major thoroughfares and repetitive meteorologist discussions of what may or may not happen later on. And if you’re trying to get someplace else, perhaps driving to Pinehurst from Raleigh for the weekend, what is Important? At the end of the day, the expected precipitation totals, the discussions of what causes freezing rain versus sleet versus snow, how many state troopers are out and about–none of this is truly Important if you’re trying to get to Pinehurst. What matters is simply: what do I need to do to get to Pinehurst safely? Perhaps you need to slow down, choose a slightly different route than you would normally take, and, in some cases, just turn the radio off so you can focus on the job at hand.

Deconstructing what’s Urgent versus what’s Important is not a practice in ignorance, and I’m not suggesting you stick your head in the sand (or the snow). But if we divert more and more of the time and energy and headache associated with Urgent things and instead focus on what’s truly Important, getting to our destination safely will be a much more fulfilling experience.

Until next time, stay the course, and as always, let us know if you want to talk about what is most important to you.

Jared Korver
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A product of small-town North Carolina (Carthage, to be exact), I’m proudly married to my best friend and co-adventurer, Amy. Together, we have two sons–Miles and Charlie–and could more or less start a library from our home. I love being outside, can’t read enough, am in the habit of writing haikus, and find food and coffee to be among life’s greatest treasures.