Work Faster!!! The Role of Urgency in Performance Management

 "Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished." –Lao Tzu

Business is fast-paced. In order to keep up with and outshine the competition, we quickly rush to complete our goals, often while multitasking. On top of the busy work day, some also rush to work, rush to meetings, and rush to get home.

If the idea of being told to move faster causes you to feel anxious, rest assured that it's a natural human response. Impatience and time urgency can cause stress by activating our sympathetic nervous system, which is our more primitive "survival" system. When we hurry, we may feel like we're being chased by a cheetah. And if we stay in this state too long, it may lead to chronic stress, which is proven to have negative health effects.

Years ago, I worked in a retail position where speed was highly valued. We were rewarded for how quickly we were able to move. If this need for speed had been in short spurts, this could've been a fun challenge—accomplishing a lot in little time felt like an accomplishment. But after an eight-hour day of rushing around and being pressured by management to "pick up the pace," that fun was squashed. When I would return home after work, I wasn't able to slow my racing thoughts...thoughts that began to move as quickly as my body had been moving in order to keep up. This is not a sustainable or enjoyable way to work, and it was a major culture killer.

Too much rushing around can cause teams and organizations to lose sight of not only the "why" behind the work, but also each other. It's essential to slow down and connect for the sake of our culture, our relationships, and our mental and physical health.

In his book In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré writes:

"Fast and Slow do more than just describe a rate of change. They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections—with people, culture, work, food, everything."

An important question to ask ourselves is, where are we trying to go? It's as though we're trying to be anywhere other than where we are. But we will always have more to do, and other places to be. Life itself sets us into forward motion, and we'll get to where we want to be regardless of how fast we move. And chances are, if we allow ourselves to slow down and smell the roses, we'll enjoy the journey a whole lot more.

Let's take a look at an important discernment in business...

Efficiency vs. Urgency

For the sake of performance, it's important to distinguish between urgency and efficiency. Urgency requires haste, and is defined by the speed in which we get things done. It puts the quality of our work at risk and perpetuates feelings of stress.

Efficiency, on the other hand, allows us to maintain our energy and doesn't involve rushing. It involves maximizing our resources in order to complete projects or tasks in the most accurate and effective way. It's resource and time management, without the cattle prod.

Efficiency should undoubtedly be an objective for organizations. Here are a few questions to ask during a team conversation to help increase efficiency:

  • What should we start, stop, and continue doing?
  • What are some tasks that would be good candidates for automation?
  • What is our biggest time suck, and how can we improve its process?

Having the right conversations and knowing how to have them is a non-negotiable component of efficiency. Here's the beautiful thing: Fierce conversations are efficient—they save organizations time and money while increasing productivity and maximizing results.

Here are some valuable pointers to help teams and leaders create a healthy pace in the workplace:

1. Reframe.

During moments when it's important to move quickly, reframe what you're doing as a game in your own mind to alleviate stress and fear. Ask yourself:

  • Am I moving quickly because I want to meet a deadline that will create a positive impact for my organization, or because I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't?

Try approaching the task as a for-fun challenge the way you would a relay race or round of Pictionary. Be choosy about the tasks you decide to move more quickly on—keep in mind that it may not be worth it to move faster, and you could end up sacrificing quality.

2. Stop Multitasking.

Research shows that monotaskers are generally more productive than multitaskers, and mono-tasking results in fewer mistakes. On top of that, multitasking is literally bad for your brain. To change multitasking habits and build the monotasking muscle, start by reviewing your to-do list first thing in the morning. When you begin diving into a task, close all other screens and distractions. Close your email, turn off your phone, and focus your attention on one task at a time. Complete the most difficult tasks that require the most undivided attention first, and finish the task at hand before moving onto the next.

3. Pay attention to how you feel.

If you feel overloaded, frazzled, or foggy, the stress monster has officially gotten the best of you. Slow down, practice deep breathing, and focus first and foremost on returning your mind and body to a state of health. As studies show, if you're not at your best, your performance will suffer. How we feel is paramount when it comes to performance. If we happen to achieve our goals in a state of distress, feeling like crap will make our achievements far less rewarding.

4. Plan smart.

Often, we may find ourselves scrambling simply because we didn't plan accordingly. Perhaps we underestimated the amount of time a project would take, or perhaps we took on too much. We can't always know what snags we might run into, so it's important to make note of previous planning snafus that will help us plan better in the future. One tip for planning effectively is to incorporate whitespace into projected timelines. WhiteSpace at Work defines whitespace as "a strategic pause taken between activities. WhiteSpace can be recuperative; to reboot your exhausted brain and body. It can also be constructive; this is time spent on driving business results through introspection, strategy and big picture thinking." It allows reflection and wiggle room where creativity and new ideas can flourish

For more on planning, check out our recent blog post here.

5. Take urgency out of the performance conversation.

If a deadline isn't met, leaders need to address the issue as it occurs, and with curiosity, through ongoing feedback conversations. When approaching the issue, it's important for leaders to work with employees to identify the root cause so the necessary adjustments can be made. How fast someone works should not be the focus of the conversation—pressuring employees to move faster will perpetuate a fear-based culture and severe stress. Accountability is necessary, and expectations related to tasks and projects need to be clear. At the same time, employees should be encouraged to structure their hours throughout the work day in a way that works best for them. This builds mutual trust while taking individual needs and preferences into account.

As in nature, as in assured, everything will be accomplished.

When it comes to increasing efficiency, skillful conversation is essential. For more ways to manage time and strengthen your workplace culture, sign up now to read 5 Conversations You Need to Start Having Today.

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