The Problem with ‘Important’

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A colleague and I have had a difficult time meeting lately. As I have reflected on why this has occurred, I have discovered that the word ‘important‘ is used a lot. As in, “I’m sorry but I have to cancel because something important came up”. This simple situation has caused me to reflect on the word important. What are we really saying when we use this word?

I have come to the conclusion that we use the word ‘important’ a lot. In fact, some of us may suffer from an important addiction. And over time, it has become such a normal part of our vocabulary that we have become numb to what important really means. To test the idea, take this simple test. Have you said any of these phrases in the last few weeks?

  • I can’t make the meeting because something important just came up.
  • Give me a few minutes, I’m finishing an important call.
  • We need to reschedule because I have an important meeting at that time.
  • Son, I can’t play with you right now because I have something important to do.

Important can be legitimate! It can also be an excuse with unexamined consequences. For example, here are a few things we may be communicating when we indiscriminately use the word important.

  • We tell others that they (or their tasks) are unimportant.
  • We reflect our ability (or more accurately, our inability) to prioritize.
  • We communicate that we are too busy to make time for someone else.
  • We legitimately have too many things to do.
  • We are not effective at prioritization.
  • We are using the word to make ourselves feel important. Because busy people are important people!

A few months ago, I spoke about a similar theme when I discussed the word ‘Busy’ (Our New Four Letter Word). Like the word busy, important can be legitimate. But when it is overused, it reveals that there is an underlying issue (such as those listed above).

So should we stop using the word ‘important’? Definitely not!! There are important things that need to shape our priorities. However, we need to stop giving it out like cheap candy at Halloween. We must use it strategically. We need to use it when something is really important and someone else needs to know it.

And now I must rush off to an important meeting…


Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is an “important” consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


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