How to create a sense of urgency
The secret to accomplishing things 10x faster
A sense of urgency is both intangible and the cause of dramatic increases in productivity. In the last 5 minutes of a project, a sense of urgency is typically the last ignition that helps you finish it with quality work.
Unfortunately, it comes when it pleases. It doesn’t necessarily come when it’s best for us or when we need it, but in typically the final stretches. However, within those final stretches, lies insight. Insight into how we can create a sense of urgency in our lives.
- Care about the task like it’s your mother.
To test out this hypothesis, simply imagine the last time you were struggling to complete a project you didn’t care about.
That’s usually the case for most of us. For us to worry about completing the project, there has to be a downside if we don’t. And that downside scares us. If it doesn’t, you most likely don’t have a personal obligation.
Now, just because a task doesn’t matter to you doesn’t mean that it will never matter to you.
For example, if there was a sizeable favor someone had asked of me that I had never gotten to, I could either tell the person I’d finish it by the end of the day or, depending on your relationship with the person, pay them a dollar if I don’t.
The downside in the first example is that your self-image takes a hit because now you haven’t kept your word. As most of us like to stay true to what we say, we’re now personally obligated to complete the favor so that our self-image stays intact.
In the case of paying someone a dollar, we lose something we own. Raise the stakes if you need to, but money can be a great motivator.
2. Stop thinking and start doing
To point out what I mean, think back to the tests you’ve taken. Now with these tests, there have sometimes been problems that we’re stuck with and thus leave it to the end, the last minute. That’s usually a mistake, because coming back to those problems and trying to solve them with 2 minutes left in class typically doesn’t work. You’re both stuck and anxious and trying to solve a problem in that state of mind doesn’t work.
Now, if you’ve already thought through the problem and you know how to solve it, then all you need to do is just do. You just need to go through all the motions of solving since you already know how.
A sense of urgency works perfectly with this as what you’re increasing is not the speed at which your brain turns, but rather how fast your hand moves. When you know what needs to be done, it’s a lot easier to work with a sense of urgency to get it done.
3. The consequences must mean something to you
This was already mentioned earlier, but I’d like to briefly expand on it:
There’s both irrational fear and rational fear. Both are extremely powerful. Rational fear can be created. Irrational, well that’s a bit harder.
What that means is that there typically has to be a tangible consequence. There are certain exceptions like our self-image, but otherwise the consequence has to be tangible. If it isn’t, there’s just not much fear and thus no sense of urgency.
4. Short-term constraints make everything better
Depending on who you are, long-term things can either motivate you, cause extreme anxiety, or not matter at all. But for almost everyone, short-term constrains are things that everyone can see. Everyone knows they exist because it’s tangibly right in front of them.
Say for example you had 2 hours to take your final and now you only have 5 minutes with 30 multiple choice questions left to go. That’s tangible and extremely motivating.
Now, in some cases there aren’t short-term constraints. The term “end of day” is pretty broad considering that some end at 5:00 and some end at 11:00 (and some never end as well. That’s another problem). You need something a bit more tangible, like finish this project in an hour. Whatever constraint you decide on, it needs to be something visible in the short-term.
5. Death can be quite helpful
This is more of a stand-alone thing regarding a sense of urgency. I don’t think thinking about death would compel me to work faster on my history essay.
However, thinking about death is not only liberating in that there’s extreme clarity on what matters, but also motivating. Thinking about death reminds you that tomorrow is not guaranteed. We only have this present moment.
We’re then motivated to do something with that moment, knowing it won’t come back again. There’s a sense of urgency. Not the type that you’d use to complete a project, but the type you’d use to live the rest of your life.