Creating a Sense of Urgency


One of the best tips I’ve learned for getting things done is creating a sense of urgency for my work.  If I feel like I have all day to do something, I’ll take all day to do it – it’s Parkinson’s Law (“Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion”).

But if something is urgent, if I need to get it done quickly, then it will get done quickly.  The trick is to do this while minimizing stress.  I could just wait to the last second to do everything, thereby forcing myself to urgently do it, but I’d also like to avoid a heart attack by age 35.

The other thing to keep in mind while working in an “urgent” environment is that the work still needs to meet expectations.  While you can consciously decide that you are only going to deliver the 80 for 20, you should always execute with excellence–delivering everything you promised 100%.

So, while keeping low levels of stress and executing with excellence in mind, here are some ways to improve productivity by creating a sense of urgency:

1. Set Short Deadlines… Stick to Them

The easiest way to create a sense of urgency is to set short deadlines (e.g. this task is due by the end of the day) and then stick to and deliver them.  Of course if you had the discipline to do this, you probably wouldn’t need the rest of this list.

That’s why you can set arbitrary stopping points that can help you.  For example, I’ll often tell myself I can’t go to the bathroom, or go to lunch, or grab a snack, until I get a task done.  You better believe that when the bladder starts getting full, I feel that sense of urgency and the task gets done quickly (which reminds me, I need to wrap up this post).

2. Make Public Commitments

Commit to delivering a project or task publicly–to your boss, your co-workers, or even your reader’s if you have a blog.  By committing publicly, you’re more inclined to complete your tasks because there are people that will hold you accountable if you don’t.

Where you can, ask the person you committed to to ask you for a status update on the task 24 hours before it’s due.  This will instill that sense of urgency and remind you that someone is expecting the task to get done, two powerful motivators combined into one.

3. Schedule a Busy Day

I don’t know about you, but I am more productive if I have a busy day scattered with meetings than if it’s a day free of any obligations but “work.”  Knowing that I only have 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, an hour over there, makes me work more efficiently in that time period (Parkinson again!).

It’s important to make sure that you don’t schedule too many meetings though.  You don’t want to be that person that is trying to multi-task in a meeting, not giving your full attention.  But with the right balance, you can have still get everything done in your heightened sense of urgency, and have productive meetings too.

4. Take Breaks

One of the most important, and most ignored, steps in becoming more efficient is taking breaks.  While you certainly want to push yourself to meet challenging deadlines, you also want to make sure you take time to recuperate and relax.  Because even though stress isn’t always a bad thing, it’s also not effective in the long term to always be in a state of high-pressure.

Remember to take breaks, have a laugh, and then resume to your highly effective self.

From Sense of Urgency to Sense of Accomplishment

Creating a sense of urgency (whether imagined or real) is a great way to get things done quickly–it follows Parkinson’s Law and it forces you to apply Pareto’s principle (80/20) .  And while it’s not the only way to have a more productive day, it is one of the most effective that I’ve found.

And now that this post is done, I can finally attend to some other, um, business.


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2 thoughts on “Creating a Sense of Urgency”

  1. Encouraging Stress?

    Are you encouraging people create more stressful days? Schedule a busy day and try to squeeze a bunch in? Sounds like a plan for burn out and heart problems.

    1. That’s a fair question, but the key is balance. Having the right amount of stress is what makes us grow / develop in our roles–just like when you’re exercising. But you’re right, we certainly don’t want to go too far and negate the positive effects of a productive day.

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