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Can I Have That Yesterday? Urgency Addiction: The New Corporate Disease

Do you get agitated when someone doesn’t reply to your email or text message within 30 minutes? Does your boss constantly tell you he needed something ‘yesterday’ when he has just asked for it today? Do you hang up the phone on customer service when you have only waited for a minute? Are you frustrated by the slowness of people and things around you? If you answered yes to most of these questions, you could be suffering from urgency addiction.

In his book First Things First, widely known author Steven Covey highlighted “Urgency Addiction” and stated that few people realise how the sense of urgency affects their lives. Many get so used to the adrenalin rush from attending to perceived urgent matters they become dependent on it ‘for a sense of excitement and energy’ just as a gambler needs his betting game or a drug addict needs his ‘fix’. When the feeling is constant, the feeling then becomes ‘normal’ to the addict.

Covey defines urgency addiction as a “self-destructive behaviour that temporarily fills the void created by unmet needs”. Another definition is having the urge to live and do everything in haste. This behaviour can become self-perpetuating and get worse the more we repeat the pattern. True, there are times that deadlines must be met and unexpected matters need to be attended to immediately, but it is when urgency becomes the ‘ruler’ of our life without realizing that what we are urgently attending to is the least bit important.

Some managers get a temporary high from solving urgent matters which can sometime correlate to their own personal sense of importance or security. An example of this is when managers give tasks to fellow employees resulting in redundant paperwork. Covey states, when the importance is not there, “people will be drawn to anything urgent, just to stay in motion.” If and when the person ‘stops’, the feelings of ‘false uselessness’ may become overwhelming. When this motion stops, the person may realize that his or her role is fairly insignificant which may then lead to insecurity. From this, other mental health issues may arise such as depression.

If someone asks “How’s work”, the usually response is “Busy. Things are real busy,” with a sense of urgency in the respondent’s voice. There also comes across a sense of importance for the individual. Public perception is the important people are busy people and vice versa. It has become a status symbol. How many people use their ‘busyness’ as a false sense of their own importance? These same people will most likely use the ‘busy’ excuse for not dealing with the real priorities and issues in their life.

How did we get this way – having this constant feeling of urgency – which has thrown many lives out of balance? Firstly, technology has heightened our urgency addiction. For example, how many times has someone rang you in the afternoon to see if you got the email he/she sent earlier that morning and then wondered why you hadn’t responded? One of the vendors I was meeting with at his office took a call. One of his clients rang to make sure he got the email he sent 30 minutes ago for he hadn’t had a response. Obviously that person must have thought he was his only client.

Mobile phones have increased the need (“false need”) to ring someone immediately to get an answer about something that is probably not very important. And if we cannot phone them, we can SMS them to which they can reply quickly. How many times have you been at a meal with a friend, your mobile phone rings, and you ‘have to take the call’ when you know you haven’t been expecting one? One’s urgency addiction to the phone can be seen by some as just being outright rude. It has only been over the past 10 years since technology sees to have replaced our sense of patience to an overwhelming sense of urgency now that we can access the internet and mobile phones 24/7.

The sad part is that this behaviour is now being accepted as ‘normal’. Society has ‘culturally-sanctioned’ this sense of urgency as routine which has filtered into the workplace. What is the culture of urgency in your workplace? Are you in a situation to where you are chronically overcommitted and are unable to get all the things done that you intended to do? Are you experiencing ‘information overwhelm’ and have difficulty learning and retaining new information? Do you feel guilty when you are underproductive? If you work in an environment that is one of urgency, the organisation may be suffering from “Corporate Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.)”, a term coined by expert Rand Stagen. He states that Corporate A.D.D. affects both individuals and organisations and is “a condition of involuntary distractibility characterised by an unfocused, urgency-driven, reactive work style”. The workplace tends to create this hyperactivity if the culture of the organisation is one of urgency. Many workplaces do not even realise it is constituting this type of environment.

Urgency addiction, as with any addiction, has a negative effect on your overall well-being and quality of life. Though confronting, it is important for employees and employers to identify the unmet needs that the urgency patterns are fulfilling. These unmet needs may include relationships, intimacy with others and self, a sense of purpose, and security.

The body can become physiologically dependent on the adrenalin which comes from the urgency. Urgency addicts tend to consume large quantities of caffeine and other substances that hype the metabolism. This constant state of distress, or constant hyperarousal, can take a negative toll on the body over time and lead to heart disease, hypertension, and headaches. In addition to the physiological stressors on the body, other dangers of this feeling of constant urgency include compromised effectiveness, damage to important relationships, and losing ‘control’ of your life.

Breaking the ‘urgency’ pattern can be a challenge but there are strategies you can implement to break the habit. Firstly, become more aware of how you spend your time and determine if YOU create the urgent matters (versus someone else). Plan your ‘To Do’ lists based on importance and priority rather than ‘urgent’ matters. Find a quiet place, sit down, think and clarify what is most important (ie., roles, goals) to you and then write it down and commit to it. Determine if your workplace is discouraging or encouraging life balance. Are the demands being placed upon you realistic or urgent (e.g. are they life-threatening emergencies)?

We live in a very fast-paced society which talks about ‘slowing down’ and life balance but seems to struggle in practice. Employers have a duty to identify those that have tendencies towards urgency addiction as well as do some self-reflection in the organisation. Without doing this, the organisation may crash and burn similar to a speeding car losing control on a curve.

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