How to Manage Someone Who Thinks Everything is Urgent
It’s a nice Thursday morning, you have all your tasks for the day planned out. You are confident that by early afternoon, you will have completed all the tasks due this week and you can now start working on the client report that is due next week.
All of a sudden, a chime goes off on your computer, notifying you of a new email.
You check the email and the “NEED ASAP” on the email’s subject line makes your heart sink. Goodbye to the thought of getting started on the client report early.
What makes your heart sink is not the fact that something is needed urgently.
After all, you are a professional and you know that sometimes, things do come up that need to be dealt with urgently, and you have no problem helping in such situations.
However, this is not one of those situations.
You are sure of this because of where the email came from. You know the habits of the sender of this particular email.
All his emails convey a sense of urgency, and you know your whole day will be spent trying to deal with matters that are not really as pressing as they are made to appear, even when you had more important tasks to deal with.
We have all been in situations where someone thinks everything is urgent and should be given utmost priority.
This person could be a boss or a colleague, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that they think that everything is an emergency that, if not handled right away, will result in an unimaginable crisis.
They move too fast and have a deep need to get everything resolved. In the process, they make things pretty hard and stressful for others and often leave a mess behind them.
What makes the situation even more difficult is that these kinds of people are usually very productive and are some of the most committed employees you will find, and will have probably even been praised for this behavior in the past.
This makes it extremely difficult for them to see the impact of their behavior on their colleagues, teams, and the entire organization.
THE DANGERS OF CONSTANT URGENCY
Treating everything like an emergency has a number of disadvantages. These include:
Increased Risk of Mistakes
When someone comes to you out of the blue with a task that needs to be completed ‘yesterday’, they put you in a state of pressure.
Not only do you need to get the work done in a rush, you will probably be feeling angry as well (because the urgent task disrupted your schedule). This puts you in a state of hyper-arousal.
In this state, your ability to think clearly, thoroughly and imaginatively, as well as your attention to detail is compromised, which increases your chances of making mistakes.
In a bid to get things done in a rush, people who treat everything as an urgency are also less likely to consider every bit of information and the impacts of their decisions, which increases the risk of making a mess of situations.
The Fire Drill is Worse Than the Fire
In most cases, the sudden and seemingly urgent tasks that are unexpectedly dropped on your laps (also known as fire drills) are not really important or urgent.
There wouldn’t really be any crisis if they waited for a bit. However, when these tasks get dropped on an employee’s laps, especially by someone who is superior to them, the employee has to drop everything they were doing and focus on the new issue that has been made to seem urgent.
Surprisingly, many people do not think about the impact of the other tasks that get derailed as employees respond to the fire drill. In many cases, the impact of the dropped work is usually bigger than that of the seemingly urgent work.
To make this easier to understand, let’s imagine a senior executive who calls a dozen mid-level managers to a meeting because of a minor issue.
In trying to resolve this small issue, which could have been solved without calling for a meeting, several man hours as well as other opportunities end up being lost, whose cost is certainly more than the cost of the minor issue being treated as an emergency.
In this case, the fire drill ends up being worse than the fire itself.
Negatively Affects Morale and Productivity
When someone thinks everything is urgent and requires everyone to drop what they are doing to put out these fires, this negatively impacts the mood and morale of the rest of the team.
Having to constantly deal with unexpected issues leads to an adrenaline rush and puts people in a state of stress.
They start resenting the person who constantly comes up with fire drills. Their ability to properly plan their day is affected since they know interruptions might come in any minute.
This ultimately affects the morale of the rest of the team and leads to decreased productivity.
Important Tasks End Up Being Ignored
There is an Aesop’s fable about a boy who cried wolf when there was none just to amuse himself.
Later, when a wolf actually appeared, his cries for help went unheeded because the villagers thought he was trying to fool them, and some of his flock got eaten by the wolf. The same happens when someone constantly treats every little thing as urgent.
When everything gets labelled urgent, people eventually conclude that nothing is urgent. When an urgent situation actually comes up, other employees will not treat it with the urgency it requires because they will take it as part of the usual attention gimmicks.
Seeing some of the negative consequences of unaddressed urgency, it is important to take some steps to mitigate the damage of this urgency. Below are some tips on how to deal with someone who thinks everything is urgent.
HELP THEM REALIZE THE IMPACT OF THEIR BEHAVIOR ON OTHERS
People who think everything is urgent are often very self-centered. Their tendency to treat everything as urgent very often comes from a position of wanting to ensure that all their tasks are completed on time. In doing this, they put their tasks and needs over those of others.
They want others to deal with issues and tasks that are important to them while forgetting that these people also have their own important tasks and issues that they need to deal with. This can lead to the typically urgent person being regarded by other employees as a selfish person and a poor team player, though they might not know it.
The key, therefore, is to help the person realize how is behavior is affecting the rest of the team and to place more emphasis on collaboration and the success of the team rather than individual accomplishment.
HELP THEM TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE IMPORTANT AND THE URGENT
Very often, many of the tasks that are passed off as urgent are usually not important, yet important things get dropped to create time to focus on the urgent but unimportant. To avoid this, you should train the person to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. A good way to do this is to introduce the person to the Eisenhower Matrix.
Also referred to as an Urgent-Important Matrix, the Eisenhower Matrix is an important tool that helps people to prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance. The Eisenhower Matrix is divided into four quadrants classify tasks as ‘urgent and important’, ‘important but not urgent’, ‘urgent but unimportant’, and ‘unimportant and not urgent’.
In the matrix, urgent tasks are those that require immediate attention, those that need to be done as soon as possible.
Important tasks, on the other hand, are tasks that contribute to the achievement of our long term goals, values and objectives. The Eisenhower Matrix looks as shown below. Encourage the person who tends to think everything is urgent to place all their tasks in the Eisenhower Matrix.
|URGENT / IMPORTANT|
|NOT URGENT / IMPORTANT|
|URGENT / NOT IMPORTANT|
|NOT URGENT / NOT IMPORTANT|
In the first quadrant, the person should place any tasks that are both urgent and important. They need to be done immediately and they contribute to the achievement of the organizations long term goals and objectives. Failure to deal with these tasks immediately can lead to significant negative impacts on the organization.
The tasks in this quadrant should be given top priority, that is, they should be done as soon as possible. Examples of activities that might fall in this quadrant include things like looming deadlines, crises, certain emails (those that cannot wait), problems, last minute demands, projects from quadrant two that were postponed, and so on.
The good thing is that, with some good planning, most of the activities that fall in this quadrant can be eliminated.
In the second quadrant, the person should place any tasks that are important but don’t have to be done right away. They don’t have a pressing deadline and will not lead to any negative impacts on the organization if they wait for a little bit. If the tasks fall in this quadrant, the person should schedule a time to get them done instead of trying to pass them off as urgent.
Examples of tasks and activities that might fall in this quadrant include long term planning, working towards long term goals, building customer relationships, researching a new competitor, and so on.
The third quadrant should contain tasks and activities that require immediate attention, but they do not have any significant contribution to the achievement of long term goals and objectives. In most cases, these tasks can be done by anyone, so the best course of action is to delegate them to someone who is not very busy at the moment.
Very often, tasks that fall in this quadrant are usually interruptions from other people. Examples of tasks and activities that might fall in this quadrant include some phone calls, emails and meetings, minor demands from other people, and so on.
The person should minimize the amount of time you spend on activities in this quadrant, and if possible, delegate, automate or decline them.
Finally, any other activities that do not require immediate attention and that do not contribute to the achievement of long term goals and objectives in any way should be placed in the fourth quadrant. These activities are distractions and time wasters. The person should try as much as possible to avoid them or schedule them for later when they are not pressed for time.
Examples of activities that should be placed in this quadrant include social media and web browsing, analysis paralysis, unnecessary coffee breaks, gossiping with coworkers, and any other activities that people use to procrastinate or waste time.
By encouraging a person who things everything is urgent to use the Eisenhower Matrix, they will get better at prioritizing their tasks and are more likely to stop treating everything as urgent.
COACH THEM TO SEPARATE WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE FROM THE SENSE OF URGENCY
Very often, people and even entire businesses and organizations operate from a sense of false urgency. In other words, there is no actual reason behind the urgency. Instead, the sense of urgency is a manifestation of other underlying factors such as anxiety or a need to express power.
For instance, a supervisor might assign a task to an employee on Thursday and ask them to have it done by Friday, not because the supervisor needs the task done by Friday, but because giving such a deadline makes them feel that they have power over the employee.
A few year back, I used to work for a company that sold stationery and other office supplies. The company had this policy where, if one of the regular customers called to say that they were out of printing paper, the paper had to be delivered to the customer within two hours.
The problem was that this policy was very inefficient. An employee might have been on their desk busy working on something, only to be told to go deliver printing paper across town. Of course, this was taking a huge toll on people’s productivity.
After hiring a new guy to head the customer service department, the new guy changed the game forever. The new guy told the customer service agents that when a customer called to say they were out of paper, the agents were to first find out how soon the customer needed the paper.
By making this simple change, it was discovered that majority of customers were not really in a rush and could wait for the paper to be delivered on the regular delivery schedule.
In other words, the company had placed on itself a false sense of urgency that led to inefficient use of employees’ time, low productivity and increased delivery costs.
To avoid a situation like the one I shared above, you should coach your team to separate what needs to be done from the sense of urgency. Just because paper needed to be delivered didn’t mean it had to be delivered immediately.
If something needs to be done, before placing an ‘URGENT’ stamp on it, encourage them to first find out how soon the task needs to be completed and the purpose for getting the task done. Once they start doing that, they will soon realize that current tasks do not have to be dropped for a certain, unexpected task, that there is no harm in having the new task wait for a little bit.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR ACTIONS
Very often, people who treat everything as urgent have good intentions, but like the popular saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Such people are often afraid of the consequences of inaction. This makes them focus solely on the pros of acting quickly with the aim of avoiding the negative consequences of inaction.
Unfortunately, they don’t take the time to consider that acting too quickly might also lead to negative consequences.
People who treat everything as urgent usually don’t have the luxury of time. Because of this, they make decisions in a hurry, without first considering all the information that might be required to make a good decision.
Making decision in a rush also narrows a person’s options prematurely.
Very often, the combination of these two factors (lack of consideration for all available information and prematurely narrowed options) lead to poor decisions that have negative consequences.
To avoid this, you should encourage a person who tends to consider everything as urgent to think through all the possible consequences of their actions. If possible, make them take responsibility for any impacts resulting from their rash decisions and actions.
Doing so will help them understand the impact of moving too fast and encourage them to put more considerations into their decisions and actions.
PAIR THEM WITH COLLEAGUES WHO PLAN FOR THE LONG TERM
People who tend to think everything is urgent are usually more concerned with immediate outcomes while forgetting the long term impacts of their decisions and actions.
For instance, a sales agent who thinks the company needs to get new clients urgently might give too many concessions in a bid to win a client.
While this might lead to more sales, the value of each client might be quite low, and the multiple concessions might result in the company doing too much to keep the client.
A more long-term oriented sales agent, on the other hand, might draw out a negotiation with a client with the aim of getting the highest possible value from the client.
Such a sales agent might close few but very lucrative clients.
If you realize that one of your team members has the tendency to treat everything as urgent, it might be wise to pair them with a colleague who is more long-term oriented.
By doing this, you can take advantage of their speed and intensity while at the same time teaching them the importance of being patient and having a more deliberate and thoughtful approach.
TRAIN THEM TO MANAGE EXPECTATIONS
Very often, a sense of urgency usually results from poorly managed expectations. For example, let’s say you, as a manager, go to one of the supervisors below you with an assignment that needs to be done. You ask them to have it ready in two days.
Unfortunately, they are working on some other tasks that would make it really hard for them to have the new assignment ready within two days.
However, instead of letting you know that they are really swamped and cannot possibly deliver the work in two days, they accept the work and delegate it to someone else in their team (who also has other tasks) with a great sense of urgency.
In this case, the sense of urgency is a direct result of poorly managed expectations. Most likely, you have no problem with waiting an extra day or two to get the work done, but the supervisor did not request for the extra time.
To avoid this, you should train your team how to manage expectations. If they think there is not enough time for something, or if a new assignment keeps them from meeting another priority, they should make it known instead of accepting the new assignment and trying to turn into superman.
ASK THEM TO PLAN BETTER
A sense of urgency might also be the result of poor planning. For instance, the person might have known that some task needed to be done well in advance, yet they wait till the last minute to assign the task accompanied by a “NEEDED URGENTLY” message.
For instance, I have a friend who works as a procurement officer. Her firm’s senior executives were relocating and needed the new offices fitted with some new furnishings.
Everyone within the firm knew that the executives were relocating within a month’s time.
My friend was therefore surprised when the guy handling the relocation came to her a week before the relocation date, asking her to urgently procure some furnishings.
The guy knew that new furnishings would be required a full month before but still waited till the last week before requesting for them to be procured ASAP.
In this case, the sense of urgency was a result of poor planning. To avoid such situations, you should encourage your staff to plan better to avoid inconveniencing others with urgent demands.
While it is important for businesses and employees to move fast, having an employee who thinks everything is urgent can be a recipe for disaster.
Not only does moving so fast on everything create room for costly mistakes, requiring others to treat everything like an emergency also affects the morale of the team and leads to more important work being dropped as other employees focus on solving these fires.
If you have such an employee who tends to think everything is urgent, the tips shared in this article will make it easier for you to manage them and mitigate the negative impacts of their unaddressed urgency.