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The drawbacks to urgent thinking and how to fix it



December 12, 2017

While beneficial in small doses, urgent thinking is dangerous in excess. Working with a sense of urgency creates the illusion of productivity and decisiveness, but rushing through work on a daily basis puts your job at risk of sacrificing quality for speed. It’s not good for business, and equally important, it’s not good for the individual.

It’s quite easy to fall into a pattern of urgent thinking. Different pressures throughout our lives expose us to it at numerous formative points. And there are many ways this habit is reinforced without us even realizing it.

Luckily, solutions do exist. Though, the longer it is present, the harder it becomes to reverse.

How We Become Hurried

Why a person works with constant urgency can stem from a variety of reasons. For some, it stems from their school days. Others are influenced by their work culture.

We start managing massive workloads early on in life. In school, we are taught that to get into a good college we need to excel in a variety of areas. We take on extra curriculars, volunteering, and more to make ourselves stand out. With so much that needs to get done, we naturally need to have a sense of urgency during times of stress. While urgency is useful when working on a paper that’s due soon or prioritizing a particularly busy week, urgency can easily turn into a full time mindset. Pressure by parents, teachers, and counselors only reinforces this bad habit.

This sense of urgency isn’t only instilled in the students; it’s a pillar for Principals as well. Some approaches to creating inclusive school environments begin with instilling a sense of urgency in the educators. Urgency is emphasized from every angle.

By college, students face new pressures to make long-term decisions about their futures. Many fall into a new trap: overachiever culture. Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education Emma Seppälä fell into this overachiever culture at a highly competitive school. While people deemed her a success, she put her health at risk in the process. Like many other driven college students, she developed anxiety and suffered from chronic lack of sleep due to the pressure.

Things don’t improve once students move into the workplace. The perpetual need to succeed and prove our worth is pervasive in our society. The prospect of promotions, raises, and ascending the corporate ladder gives us all the motivation we need to try to overperform.

Office leaders often perpetuate this overdriven, urgent team culture. So do company ethos. Startups often fall into this mistake. Usually, it is miscategorized as “startup culture.” In reality, it’s a culture that pushes people too hard, burns them out too fast, and rarely takes time to recognize incremental team milestones.

At a quick glance, having a sense of urgency can look like it’s fueling productivity. In reality, it’s motivating teams to deliver fast, but subpar, work. At the end of the day, low quality results and worker unhappiness are finally making companies recognize this culture of urgency as an organizational problem.

The Impact of Over Urgency

Task-focused individuals often note their ability to zero in on work. At a certain point, this ability shifts from asset to hindrance. Hurried thinking creates the stress that leads to adrenal fatigue. And constant stress begins to affect our quality of life, regularly causing:

  • Low energy
  • Cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Poor concentration

When every task is top priority, it limits our mind’s ability to think creatively. Problem solving is nearly impossible, and we resort to rushed, bad decisions that cause our team’s more time and effort in the long run to correct.

This is particularly problematic for team leaders tasked with project management roles. The real priority of jobs becomes clouded, which can lead to missed deadlines and dropped assignments.

This kind of work culture leads to high burnout and high turnover. It’s unsustainable, and it’s not helping your company produce what it’s capable of.

From personal health to company turnover, overly urgent thinking impacts everyone. Fortunately, there are solutions for companies and individuals.

Solutions to Urgent Thinking

You can correct this problematic thinking through coaching and self-teaching.

Acknowledge the problem. If you recognize yourself as the source, acknowledge that this is how your brain operates and that you can change it. Do your best to quell your internal worries as they arise. Remind yourself that not every task is pressing at every moment. Assure yourself that you have things under control.

If reminding yourself isn’t enough, look to your to-do list. Assess which tasks have an upcoming deadline and which can wait. Then, break your work into smaller chunks. This practice will make tasks appear much more manageable and help you prioritize.

Reach out for help. Never be afraid to ask for help. In some cases, that will be a boss or mentor. Other instances may require talking to a health professional. You shouldn’t keep your stress bottled up inside.

Keep things in perspective. Step back when possible to see the bigger picture. We sometimes get trapped in workings of the daily grind. Look at broader goals to see how you can prioritize your goals to get there. If you realize certain tasks have less impact on your goals than others, try to let those tasks go for awhile. Remember, you can return to them when you have more time.

Lead the way. If you’re a team leader, it’s important that you reinforce a healthier work culture. You may even need to sit down with certain teams or specific members. To avoid causing added pressure, provide possible solutions team members can work on.

Be clear about your expectations, and explain the negative consequences of urgent thinking. Provide examples of recent instances and the effects it had.

From there, demonstrate the benefits of a slower approach. Address why they might be rushing, and see if you can make any immediate changes to alleviate the expectation of constant urgency. Sometimes, it just takes a small tweak to right the problem.

Follow through. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, show your team you are invested in their continued success. Lead struggling members by example with occasional progress meetings. Or, partner hurried colleagues with more ideal performers. Watch how they learn and adjust to one another.

The key to changing course is examples. First, you need to recognize the error through team shortcomings. Then, lead by example. This combination proves to be a real tide turner.


Urgent thinking is a problem. But at its core, it comes from a place of good intention. Urgent workers are often the most diligent workers. With a few tweaks, you can apply that drive in a healthier way to the benefit of your health and the business.



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