The seductive power of urgency

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

 

We keep hearing about how important it is to ‘ship it’ and rightly so. After all, it is this belief that something must be done [and fast] that makes people look forward to waking up the next day and work harder to make things happen. People with a sense of urgency live with meaning and purpose in their lives and pounce at every meaningful opportunity that comes their way.

 

But it is very easy to get seduced by the mere feeling of living a powerful life that this sense of urgency brings with it. We decide to make small things seem important when they are not. It makes us feel important and powerful. We start to equate busy-ness with productivity. The difference between urgent and important starts to blur.

 

Soon after I started my entrepreneurial career, I became an urgency junkie. I developed zero tolerance for having to wait for just about anything and can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t in the ‘now or it is the end of the world’ phase. The moment an idea came to me, I just had to execute it [and the number of ideas that come to me every day is a crazy lot]. I felt agitated if I was unable to do more than one thing at a time. I got restless waiting for the elevator and would often use the stairs instead. There was a constant struggle against the clock. It might even have added to my road rage. I never had enough time and it felt almost right because so many others around me felt the same way.

 

If you’re also always in a hurry, eating fast, rushing to meetings, or forcefully completing people’s sentences for them, read on to find out how I turned from a constant ‘frantic’ urgency in my life to a more ‘meaningful’ urgency.

 

How being in a constant state of ‘emergency’ was pulling me down

 

Time urgency is the name experts give to this constant hurry-worry that forces us into a continuous, unnecessary, loop of rush. For me, it had some serious consequences.

  • I not only wanted to do things fast, I also wanted to share my thoughts and ideas fast. My thoughts raced so fast race so fast in my head that my words failed to catch up and I end up with a slur in my speech.
     

  • I was always preoccupied with things I thought were extremely urgent. So much so that I had trouble recalling simple things and would, for example, forget to finish my cup of tea till it’s too cold to have it anyway. It was hard to store new information. It still is and I’m working every day to get better.
     

  • I knew it was alright for more than one things to be important but for all to be urgent didn’t make sense, and yet I found it almost impossible to prioritise. Everything needed to be done ‘yesterday’.
     

  • I lost sense of time. Since everything was urgent and had to be done at the earliest, to me it meant that there had to be a way to do it in a small amount of time. I ended up setting insanely impractical deadlines for myself that I could never meet. It made me feel miserable.
     

  • It killed my attention span. I could hardly focus on any one thing at a time. I got easily distracted and everything I initiated in a hurry ended up staying an item on my to-do list for a long time.
     

  • The stress of wanting to do everything simultaneously and not being able to see anything through to completion caused anxiety and reduced self-esteem.
     

  • Everything other than myself became priority. I hardly had any me-time because I felt guilty wasting time on luxuries when there were so many other seemingly pressing issues in my life.
     

  • My entire personal brand started to revolve around how busy I was – and not in a good way. I had to turn down invites to all industry events and eventually the number of invites started to lessen.
     

  • Worst of all, I was setting unreasonable expectations from my team members and adding to my frustration [and their low self-esteem] when they were unable to give the necessary results in the set time.

I also read recently that this was very typical of Type A personalities [even though this may be a very antiquated personality or behaviour type] who are more prone to developing coronary heart diseases. Thankfully I do not have any [known] heart problems as of now and I hope I am making amends right in time to avoid any such problems in the future.
 

What I am doing to move from ‘frantic’ to ‘meaningful’ urgency


I have still not made a complete transition but I have come a long way from never having enough time to restricting my work-day to 9 hours a day [I have to try and bring it down to 8 hours by end of June this year]. My to-do list is also not an overwhelming list of trivial things to do but a short list of the top 3 things I can do every day to get closer to my goals.


A few things I did [and continue to do] to make the transition:

  • I let it sink in: I am the one creating the urgency

    This is crucial. I had to be convinced that urgent tasks do come up sometimes but to be under constant pressure all the time for long periods of time is a problem with prioritisation and unreasonable expectations. I had to correct it. Acceptance was step one.
     

  • I reminded myself of my ‘what’ and ‘why’

    I gave myself a long, hard look in the mirror and asked myself why I was doing all this ‘urgent and important’ work that kept me busy and in chaos all the time. Was I working towards a purpose or stressing aimlessly over things that added no value to my personal or professional life? Turned out a lot of it was not getting me anywhere.
     

  • I kept asking ‘what is causing this urgency’

    Another important one. Am I not planning properly? Am I leaving all tasks to the last minute? Some of these things just add up to the time pressure. If your to-do list starts to repetitively show tasks that are important and urgent, chances are you need to develop processes that help you avoid emergencies. You have to begin to be proactive rather than reactive.
     

  • I choose my battles wisely

    I want to be an author, an artist, a professional development coach, and a perfect wife and daughter [in addition to all the new things I want to learn each day]. All these things are important to me but can I do them all together? I doubt it.

    It wasn’t easy to convince myself that out of the so many things I wanted to do in life, I could not do them all simultaneously and had to choose my [one] battle very carefully. This is not to say that I will never try doing each of them, but that perfecting or completing all of them is not ‘urgent’.
     

  • I keep my to-do list short and sweet

    I stay clear of long to-do lists particularly when everything on it is screaming ‘urgent’. I remind myself that if everything looks urgent, chances are nothing is. I have to be brutally honest with myself and tell myself that anything and everything that does not help me get closer to my vision has to be thrown off my to-do list.
     

  • I have learnt to differentiate between urgent and important

    Attending to a customer shouting at the top of their lungs is urgent. Developing systems to ensure fewer complaints is important. Important tasks will generally be things that help you in your career progression even though they may not have a deadline attached to them. Urgent tasks are trivial things that need immediate attention. But not all urgent tasks are also important. Once I started to prioritise what is important over what is urgent, a lot of urgent tasks automatically disappeared. For example, once I started to ensure I paid the bills within 2 days of receiving the invoice, the urgency of it close to the deadline disappeared.
     

  • I learnt to delegate

    This one was tough and I have written an entire blog on how a perfectionist can learn to delegate, part of which was about learning to find the right people to delegate the task to. I had started to become a bottleneck to my own success and it caused even more anxiety. So I slowly and gradually learnt to delegate most of the ‘urgent but not so important’ tasks as well as some of the important tasks that were repetitive.
     

  • I am working on developing ‘routines’

    This primarily means staying organised, setting specific times during the day for extensive work that requires extreme focus, reducing the number of times I check my e-mail, pre-scheduling my social media posts, and so on.

    I try and stick to my routine, too. That’s more important than ‘designing’ one. Having a routine and staying organised and on top of my game means that I am more prepared for whatever is coming my way and taking care of my important things so that they don’t turn into emergencies.
     

  • I take breaks

    Not the kind of breaks I often took when I was trying to procrastinate. But for example, after spending quite some time writing a blog, it all stops making sense. So, I distance myself from it for a while and completely forget about it. Then come back and start again. Sometimes these breaks mean getting something else done. At other times, I am just disconnecting completely and listening to music or taking a stroll. It has helped me become a lot more productive than I had imagined.
     

  • I learnt to say no

    The moment a client would come to me asking for a training or an event, I would leave everything else and put all my energies into worrying about how I could deliver. The first time I sat down to think if I really needed a project to reach my goals, the answer was a clear no and I turned it down. It was a feeling of liberation. You should try it too [except don’t start turning down projects only for that feeling of liberation].

 

The bottom line is acceptance that this is a problem and constant self-awareness to identify patterns that are leading you into the loop of time urgency. Continuously remind yourself that while speed matters, equally [if not more] important is the direction you a