How to develop a sense of urgency

November 17, 2018

REMEMBER the good old college days when you had to submit a term paper by a certain date or else you’ll flunk? Some students would wait until the last minute before being “inspired” (or in plain language, panic and cram). But others rolled up their sleeves once the assignment was handed out. They gathered the data, raided the library, interviewed people and pounded away at the keyboard as early and fast as they could.

Guess which students went through less stress, turned in better papers and collected higher grades? The difference was what is called “sense of urgency.” It is this same “sense of urgency” which is highly prized by employers. It spells the difference between a flourishing career and a mediocre one. So how do we develop a sense of urgency?

Time yourself. The easiest way to develop a sense of urgency is to set short deadlines, whatever is the minimum time needed to finish a task. Even if the boss did not give us a deadline, we impose a deadline upon ourselves. Then stick to this deadline and deliver the goods.

Many people complain about relentless pressure in their jobs. But others make a game out of it: they set timetables, pretend they are in a race, get energized by acting swiftly and draw immense satisfaction of having beaten the deadline. Exceptional people go one step further: how can I shorten the time it takes me to do the same task? Just one tip: your self-imposed deadline should be challenging but realistic, otherwise you will be setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Some people advise factoring in a margin of error for unexpected delays. In any event, set a target time of completion.

Tell someone else for accountability. If it’s just you and your task, chances are you will keep extending your deadline. Therefore, another powerful way to have a sense of urgency is be accountable to someone else. For example, I am now writing my next book, but it is easy for me to put off writing a paragraph, let alone a whole chapter. But I ask my editor for a deadline and the moment he gives me one, I spur myself to keep it. This helps build my reputation as a writer who can be counted upon, which in turn opens the door for new literary assignments.

Tell someone else of your goals and timetable. This will force us to strive to meet our targets. Otherwise we feel the shame of letting him down. Some people even ask their friends to call them up for a status update at an agreed-upon time. The sense of urgency is reinforced when you know that someone is expecting the task to get done. Again, when you tell someone you will finish a task by a certain time, first be sure that deadline is realistic. Otherwise, you will come across as one unable to keep promises.

Train yourself to an emergency mode. Chicken Little frantically told everyone, “The sky is falling!” and everyone took cover. Of course, the sky wasn’t really falling, but this perception generated this particular sense of urgency. Similarly, imagine the company is in trouble, the competitor is about to steal our business or the boss is displeased with us. Adopting such perceptions will get our juices flowing. One may protest, “But that’s not really happening!” Maybe not now, but if we don’t hustle, they soon will be!

Sometimes the emergency is real. More often than not, small companies run under a sense of urgency because their very survival is at stake. If they don’t work harder, quicker and smarter, they get squashed by bigger, well-entrenched competitors. So if you work for such a company and you’re laid-back, you will stick out as a laggard.

Other people psych themselves in “emergency mode” by walking faster, answering emails as soon as they receive them, getting to the point quickly, and keeping meetings short, on time and with an agenda.

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