Urgent – different things to different people

I used to have a poster on my office wall that read:

Which urgent job do you want me to stop working on, so your urgent job can be dealt with urgently?

It came out of a management magazine that I had taken to reading at the time.

Ever since those early days in management, I had been in the position where I had to constantly juggle opposing priorities in order to get the work-flow through to make a profit. Except I don’t think we called it a work-flow back then.

I would forever be told that the latest piece of work to hit my desk was urgent, but when I queried how urgent, nine times out of ten people really meant they had screwed up, and could I help them out. Depending upon the manner in which they asked for help, sometimes they would get it, other times I would let them stew, whilst in different circumstances I may be genuinely unable to help them.

What it did teach me though that in life, many people describe something as being urgent when they mean it is important, but not requiring immediate attention.

I may have an urgent package I want delivering, but clearly it is not urgent when compared to the urgent need of medical treatment.

It is a symptom of what is often referred to as modern life.

Take a step back

My first boss after graduating had a great way of dealing with urgent situations. If something went wrong the team could come under quite a bit of pressure, with production losses equating to £100k per line every ten minutes. (Yes it was a very large company.)

Let’s just take a step back and review the situation.

That one line, those ten words, were enough on numerous occasions to get everyone to pause, just for a moment, to take the panic out of the situation that needed to be resolved.

It was still important to everyone to get the situation resolved quickly, but the sense of urgency was replaced by a sense of purposeful resolution.

It was a powerful tool that I have used myself in a number of management roles with different companies.

To me urgent implies panic, a loss of control. When it comes to team dynamics this can have a disastrous effect and prevent targets from being achieved.

So whilst it is the easiest thing in the world to allow urgency to overwhelm us, and that does happen to us all at times, just remember that phrase and take a step back. See how putting the breaks on a little can actually speed up the solution.

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