Do you get impatient when waiting in line or ‘stuck’ in traffic?  Do you feel some people are wasting your valuable time?  Have you ever rung someone straight after you sent them an email or text to find out if they ‘got it’?  Do you continuously want things ‘now’?  Do you wait until the ‘last minute’ to get the job done?  Do you feel guilty when you take ‘time out’?    If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, you could be suffering from urgency addiction.

Widely known author Steven Covey highlighted “Urgency Addiction” in his book First Things First and stated that few people realize how the sense of urgency affects their lives. Many get so used to the adrenalin rush from attending to urgent matters they become dependent on it ‘for a sense of excitement and energy’ just as a gambler needs his betting game. 

Covey defined urgency addiction as a “self-destructive behaviour that temporarily fills the void created by unmet needs”.  Simply, urgency addiction is having the urge to live and do everything in haste. This behaviour can become self-perpetuating and get worse the more one repeats the pattern. True, there are times that deadlines must be met and unexpected matters need to be attended to immediately, but it is when urgency becomes the ‘ruler’ of our life without realizing that what we are urgently attending to is the least bit important.  Sound familiar?

Some managers get a temporary high from solving so-called urgent matters which can sometime correlate to their own personal sense of importance or security.  Here is an example.  Did you ever have a boss give you a task resulting in redundant paperwork?  Covey states, when the importance is not there, “people will be drawn to anything urgent, just to stay in motion.” If and when the person ‘stops’, the feelings of ‘false uselessness’ may become overwhelming. When this motion stops, the person may realize that his or her role is fairly insignificant which may then lead to insecurity. 

If someone asks “How’s work?”, the usual response is “Busy, mate, real busy.” There comes across a sense of importance for the individual.  Important people are busy people and vice versa.  It has become a status symbol.  How many people use their ‘busyness’ as a false sense of their own importance?  These same people will most likely use the ‘busy’ excuse for not dealing with the real priorities in their life.

What these busy people don’t realize, as well as their urgency addiction, is how it impacts on others in the workplace.

How did we get this way – having this constant feeling of urgency – which has thrown many lives out of balance?

Firstly, technology has heightened our urgency addiction. Mobile phones have increased the “false” need to ring someone immediately to get an answer about something that is probably not very important. And if one doesn’t answer, we can SMS the person in hopes to get a quick reply.  It has only been over the past 10 years since technology has replaced our sense of patience to an overwhelming sense of urgency. 

Society has ‘culturally-sanctioned’ this sense of urgency as routine which has filtered into the workplace. What is the culture of urgency in your workplace? Are you in a situation to where you are chronically overcommitted and are unable to get all the things done that you intended to do? are you experiencing ‘information overwhelm’ and have difficulty learning and retaining new information? Do you feel guilty when you are underproductive?

If you work in an environment that is one of urgency, your organisation may be suffering from “Corporate A.D.D.”, a term coined by expert Rand Stagen. He states that Corporate A.D.D. affects both individuals and organisations and is “a condition of involuntary distractibility characterised by an unfocused, urgency-driven, reactive work style”. The workplace tends to create this hyperactivity if the culture of the organisation is one of urgency. Many workplaces do not even realise it is constituting this type of environment.  Though confronting, it is important for employees and employers to identify the unmet needs that the urgency patterns are fulfilling. These unmet needs may include relationships, intimacy with others and self, a sense of purpose, and security. 

Urgency addiction, as with any addiction, has a negative effect on your overall well-being and quality of life. Urgency triggers stress which is basically a dose of dopamine, adrenaline, and cortisol to your brain. The body can become physiologically dependent on the adrenalin which comes from the urgency. Urgency addicts tend to consume large quantities of caffeine and other substances that hype the metabolism. This constant state of distress, or constant hyperarousal, can take a negative toll on the body over time and lead to heart disease, hypertension, and headaches. In addition to the physiological stressors on the body, other dangers of this feeling of constant urgency include compromised effectiveness, damage to important relationships, and losing ‘control’ of your life.

Breaking the ‘urgency’ pattern can be a challenge but there are strategies you can implement to break the habit.

  • Become more aware of how you spend your time and determine if YOU create the urgent matters (versus someone else). 
  • Plan your ‘To Do’ lists based on important rather than urgent matters. 
  • Sit down, think and clarify what is most important (i.e., roles, goals) to you and then write it down and commit to it.
  • Determine if your workplace is discouraging or encouraging work/life balance. Are the demands being placed upon you realistic and urgent (e.g. are they life-threatening emergencies)? 

We live in a very fast-paced society which talks about ‘slowing down’ and life balance but seems to struggle in the practice. Employers have a duty to identify those that have tendencies towards urgency addiction as well as do some self-reflection in the organisation. Without doing this, the organisation may crash and burn similar to a speeding car losing control on a curve.

If you come across anyone who is pressuring you to get things done immediately (when it is not that important), use this statement which I coined: “You’re urgency addition is not my problem.”