The events of 2020 have radically transformed the way we work. For leaders, one side effect has been a growing Addiction to Urgency.
Being busy is a badge of honor in American business. Having a sense of urgency is a virtue and, compared to complacency and laziness, that makes a lot of sense.
In his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents a helpful illustration of how effective people use their time:
Covey’s insight is this: How you respond to demands upon your time is influenced by how URGENT any given activity is versus how IMPORTANT it is. These two variables create a 2×2 matrix, of which the first two quadrants are the most relevant:
Quadrant 1 is composed of activities that are URGENT AND IMPORTANT: crises, daily firefighting, pressing problems and deadline-driven projects. Think how a pandemic, for example, influences a leader to choose to attend to daily firefighting. That’s living in Quadrant 1.
Quadrant 2 is composed of activities that are IMPORTANT BUT NOT URGENT: preventive maintenance, relationship building, planning for new opportunities. There’s nothing urgent about these important activities. They can always be put off until tomorrow. Yet the greatest progress and breakthroughs for an organization come through Quadrant 2 time and thought.
As one leader told me recently:
“During the first month of the Covid crisis, I was on a high, with those stress hormones coursing through my veins. I have to admit I was loving it! Every day was exciting and challenging and everyone was running at 120%… until one by one we started to hit the wall.”
Another leader recently learned to pull back his perspective, look at the pace his team had become addicted to, and frame it differently:
“If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent. We need to slow down, step back and make choices about what activities will really move us forward versus those that keep us spinning in response to the ‘crisis’ of the moment.”
Have the events of 2020 created an Addiction to Urgency for you as a leader? If so, left unchecked, it will harm your team going forward.
Thought is the most productive form of work.
Having a healthy sense of urgency is a good thing. But, like any good thing that is overplayed, an obsession with urgency has a dark side. A leader addicted to the adrenalin of the Urgent tends to miss what is Important but not Urgent.