How urgent is it? Be more productive and less reactive

- September 2, 2020 3 MIN READ

The coronavirus crisis has taught us sometimes a business needs to react urgently to change. While it can be difficult to pivot under pressure, particularly when circumstances are out of our control, it doesn’t need to be stressful, writes Dermot Crowley, productivity thought leader, director of Adapt Productivity, and author of Urgent!

Urgency is a reality in our modern workplace, even in remote teams. But of course, not all urgency is within our control. Nor is all urgency bad; some things are impossible to plan for. Most of us are working in roles with many moving parts, balancing everyday issues with more complex initiatives. It is complicated.

Still, we must expect a certain amount of urgency in life. I am not suggesting you can, or you should, eradicate urgency altogether. But you can minimise unproductive urgency. This is the urgency that could have been avoided in the first place. The unnecessary urgency that creates stress and slows work down. The urgency that can become a toxic part of your culture, and then become the norm. If you and your team find yourselves in a state of chronic and acute reactivity, it is likely that you are operating within an urgent culture that causes more harm than anything else.

We need to create a sense of urgency, not senseless urgency!

By learning to moderate urgency in our workplace, you can reduce stress levels, burnout, and unproductive rework. You can focus more of your team’s time and attention on the important work that matters.

The causes of unproductive urgency are easy to identify. It is usually because you or someone else made it urgent unnecessarily (fake urgency), or you or someone else left it until the last minute (avoidable urgency).

If you want to work productively, you need to reduce the fake and avoidable urgency as much as possible, and to position yourself to respond to the reasonable urgency in a timely way. This is a more purposeful approach to urgency which reduces reactivity and can, over time, shift the culture of your team or organisation.

Whilst everyone has a part to play in managing urgency, I believe that leaders and managers are the ones who can most effectively manage urgency at the team level. As a team leader you may be faced with situations where you need to defend against incoming urgency from others, and other situations where you need to drive the urgency yourself. Whether the urgency is internal or external, as managers you need to understand how to both increase or decrease it, depending on the situation.

  1. Respond

Being responsive rather than reactive is a defensive strategy that will help your team to deal with real urgency in a purposeful and thoughtful way.

  • Change your language from reactive to proactive language (Ditch ASAP)
  • Test assumptions to ensure it is truly urgent
  • Create a circuit breaker to avoid knee-jerk reactions
  1. Absorb

Sometimes your job as a manager is to absorb the urgency to protect your team, and to keep them focused on what is important.

  • Question why it is urgent – every time. Do not accept unreasonable urgency
  • Back your team when they negotiate unreasonable deadlines with others
  • Learn to negotiate urgency on behalf of your team in a firm but polite way
  1. Mobilise

Some situations may require you to mobilise the troops and create a sense of urgency to build traction and momentum.

  • Set accountable deadlines when delegating work
  • Explain the context so people understand why it is urgent
  • Manage urgency fatigue when you spot it in your team
  1. Defuse

When you spot unproductive urgency taking hold within your team you may need to defuse the situation and refocus the team on the things that matter.

  • Set the right example for your team by working proactively yourself
  • Calm things down when you spot unproductive urgency taking over
  • Do not reward reactivity as this just creates a reactive culture

Many people feel the effects of unproductive urgency, but do not realise that there are things they can do to control or influence the issue. It is critical that we do not become victims of urgency and reactivity. We need to develop skills and strategies to deal with unproductive urgency, and constantly question it when it comes our way.

As leaders, we need to hold the space for discussion and negotiation about urgency. We need to create more proactive and less reactive cultures if we want our people to thrive and do the great work they are capable of.

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