How Urgent is Urgent? Understanding the Pressures in Your Life
I caught COVID a few weeks ago. It was like seeing a movie that you’ve been hearing about for months, and because of the buildup it was ultimately disappointing. I had a moderately high fever for a few days, watched a lot of TV (Hanna), and used it as an excuse to eat fun food (ice cream and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). Of course, I know that lots of people died from it, and many more have lingering issues related to it. I had it easy, and I’m grateful for that. But it made me think about my generally busy life, and the fact that I could put it on hold—without significant repercussions. I also know this is not true for everyone or in all circumstances. A disruption in life for some people might mean a loss of income, an inability to take care of children, or the need to cancel a significant event, such as a concert. Again, I had it easy.
Being sick without being sick
Want to play hooky? After an event like a week-long illness, I thought, how fun would it be to take a week off without being sick? I fantasized about having my own Ferris Bueller day. For many, a sense of responsibility or urgency (real or created) prevents them from waking up and saying, fuck it, I’m calling in sick today. If you can pay attention to emotional health, an errant “sick” day can be just what you need. It can head off feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It can get you over the hump of a crazy-busy time. It might seem counterintuitive, but when you’re feeling your most pressed, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away. It might be a few hours or a whole day, but a reboot of your thinking can help you come back fresh with a more focused set of priorities and a new perspective on getting things done.
Is my urgency really that urgent?
For many of us, a disruption can be like a test of how legitimate a sense of urgency is. In our daily routines, busyness and urgency can become a permanent state. You have tasks, you have meetings, people count on you and so you must get the job done—now. If your schedule gets derailed, you may begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious. I’m falling behind! All this is coming due now! You work late nights and weekends. You get it all done, but you somehow still feel behind. That lingering sense of pressure never really goes away. Some feelings of urgency are from specific timelines and due dates. These are necessary aspects of the working world and are needed to coordinate and work collaboratively. However, many of these are a bit arbitrary and are not associated with a specific need to complete a task by a certain time.
One the other hand, creating a schedule for yourself can be a very good thing. It keeps you organized and helps you manage your workflow. It’s also important to be respectful of other people’s time and to honor commitments you’ve made. If you’ve promised that you’ll do something by a certain time, you should do everything you can to honor that promise. But ultimately, urgency, in many contexts, is created by us and it can be set aside by us when it makes sense.
Building in time to slack off
Some people thrive on being busy and on their lives being hectic. They like it and want it that way. But for the rest of us, managing pressure is important and is helpful to our productivity and effectiveness. Because there is a culture of busyness in the modern workplace, the ability to be intentional about urgency is challenging. We have to transcend the overriding sense of urgency in our lives and replace it with our individual level of urgency that’s appropriate for the moment. This involves regular time away from our work. You may say that that’s what vacations are for, and yes, vacations can be a time to reboot. But for many, vacations are just as hectic as work (but in a different way), and they are also only once or twice a year.
If you would benefit from managing the pressure you feel, it’s important to take more frequent opportunities to walk away and recharge. To do this, you need to build these times into your days and weeks. Regular breaks during the day in which you’re not networking or running errands. If possible, you can even schedule days off just for you—to reflect and engage in restorative activities.
Urgency and stress
The sense of urgency in your life can lead to stress, and stress can lead to insomnia, physical symptoms like headaches and stomach upset, and negative emotions, such as anxiety or depression. Another common symptom of stress is the inability to focus, which can lead to decreased productivity. Yes, urgency can give you the drive you need to get things done, but it can also have a negative impact on your productivity and your life.
Ultimately, you have to develop an awareness of all the signals for urgency in your life, and process them to ensure that a) you know which are legitimate, b) you know which are urgent for you, and c) you know how they fit into your individual sense of urgency in terms of your life balance.
Don’t ever accept someone else’s version of what is urgent without understanding how urgent it is for you.