Stop Treating Everything as Urgent

By Siew Ching

Learn to chill, prioritise, and you’ll get things done.

Ever heard about urgent culture? It’s when everything at the office is “Urgent. Please get it done ASAP.” Whether it’s replying to an email with an update or finishing up some work, the urgency never stops… and the work just keeps on coming, whether it is something big or small!

Yes, of course everything is urgent at work – but just how urgent? It might feel like always having to complete something equates to great productivity, but when every task is top priority, where do you draw the line on what needs to be done first?

It’s a reality of our times though, where everything happens at a fast past no thanks to the internet. News comes in fast, information gets disseminated at lightning speed… and therefore, you’re expected to do the same when it comes to work where things are constantly evolving, changing and yes, demanding.

Problem with this is that you get burnt out easily! Having to constantly be on call or on flight mode can really cause stress within. For some, it manifests into being constantly on the go, weekday or weekend, and not having the time to just unwind and not think about work. For others, this always needing to complete an urgent task can cause them to shut down completely. Either way, it’s not great for productivity nor company morale.

So what do you do? Stop treating everything as urgent! Maybe it’s something you’ve inflicted upon yourself – when you get tasked with something, you go on high alert and want to complete it ASAP instead of pacing yourself and doing what you can for the day and finishing up the rest later. No real problem with wanting to be productive but our suggestion? Learn how to prioritise what to prioritise! Not everything must be urgent and with the work hours you have in a day, it’s not possible for you to want to finish all your tasks within that short window of time.

Here are some ways you can learn to leave the urgent culture behind and be better at prioritising your to-dos:

#1 When everything is urgent, nothing is
The wise words of Joe Martin, VP of Content and Digital Scorpion, former CMO of CloudApp and Marketing Lead for Adobe. There’s so much truth in that if you sit down and think of everything that needs your urgent attention. Instead of trying to tear yourself into all different directions to complete the urgent tasks, do this instead – schedules for hard deadlines on things that really can’t be compromised. Work on those first – product launches, important business meetings, even emails that require your attention now but takes only five minutes to reply. Everything else may feel urgent but in truth, they aren’t. These can be pushed back or negotiated with your boss on the timing if you have too much on your plate.

#2 Don’t glorify your urgent list
Sure, it feels good to be needed to complete that urgent task. There’s even this sense of glorification involving overworking and always being on the go. You know what, do less! Don’t think that sleep is overrated or success is only for the strong. It is not weak if you are taking a break or just plain tired. Instead, it is even better for your productivity if you learn to pace yourself so you can produce better quality work instead of work that’s clearly been rushed through. Your mental health is important, perhaps even more urgent than the task.

#3 Redefine urgent
Everyone labels urgent for everything they do – sure, why not! Who doesn’t want to get work done. But start redefining what urgent means when it comes to work. Perhaps this is something you can work with your team or your boss. Does urgent mean it needs your immediate attention? Then yes, by all means do it. But if urgent means it needs your important attention, it could also mean that you have some time to think it through to give it the proper detail it needs. Having this shared notion of what urgent is will help save everyone a lot of headache and stress.

#4 Learn how to prioritise what to prioritise
Everything is a priority but when you look at your list, you have a few tasks that are the real things to prioritise. What are these? The kinds that are urgent and important that they demand you act quickly because someone else is waiting for your action. Everything else can fall under these other categories in terms of urgency: Not so urgent but still important (like a presentation that is happening in 10 days that you need to work on soon); urgent but not so important – mostly daily things that you need to work on like email replies, admin stuff, things to highlight immediately before they go attended to; not urgent and not important, which really shouldn’t be on your list until you have cleared stuff from the other three categories!

#5 Don’t assume urgent means now
Yes, it sounds serious enough that you need to drop everything and do it ASAP. But really, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. Sure, something is urgent like your input for a project the company is bidding for but unless it’s a matter of win or lose, life or death, you will find that you actually have some time to mull things over, think it through, and give it your proper assessment. Also, sometimes when your boss says urgent, she’s probably going through some anxiety herself and wants to take control of the situation. So instead of just jumping into action, take the time to properly understand the task at hand and suss out if you actually have time to work on it.

How do you deal with the urgency culture at work? Share with us @Graduan!

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

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