I also discuss this subject on Episode 35 of The Redeeming Productivity Show, Addicted to Urgency.
Growing up, I was not a good student. I was not very organized, I did not plan well, and mostly I just did not care. Nevertheless, I did usually avoid failing by turning my assignments in on time. It was often a stress-filled last-minute sprint to finish that paper which was assigned weeks ago but was suddenly due tomorrow and I hadn’t even started. And the more I waited until the last minute, the more I needed deadlines to get things done. I became dependant upon that due date rush in order to perform. I needed that little pill called “urgency”.
Urgency is like a drug. Even a small dose grants the recipient tremendous focus and motivation. Urgency gives you that now-or-never high. Because when urgency’s alarm is sounding there’s no time to be paralyzed by procrastination, over-analysis, examining options, you just need to go! Go! Go!
Because urgency is such a powerful motivator, some of us can become addicted to it. But while urgency might help us get things done, when we use urgency as a drug it reveals that we aren’t thinking biblically about our work and responsibilities.
You probably know an urgency addict. There are tell-tale signs. It’s the boss who holds everyone to artificial deadlines because a deadline is the only motivation that’s ever worked for him. It’s the co-worker whose hair is perpetually on fire so she bristles at even the smallest interruption. It’s the couple who requires the pressure of having guests over to get off their butts and pick their place up.
But one thing these types of people have in common is that, while it may take the ticking of a time-bomb to get them moving, when the pressure is on they actually do get stuff done. And that just perpetuates the cycle of requiring panic in order to perform. In other words, urgency is addicting because it works. But we must be careful because this drug has side-effects.
May Cause Blurrines of Vision
Urgency may work in the short-term, but like all drugs, urgency has its side effects. You’ve heard the expression, “the tyranny of the urgent” That saying is popular for a reason. Urgency can rule you with an iron fist.
Junkies who repeatedly submit themselves to urgency’s yoke will find her to be a fickle taskmaster. Because urgency does not value priorities and processes, only panic. She does not ask, “what should I do next?” only “what must I do next?” And she has little concern for the quality of the completed product as long as it gets turned in before the clock hits zero. Then, she’s on to the next manufactured emergency.
This kind of living appears productive in the short term (it certainly keeps you busy). But those who can only perform under pressure will not be effective in the long run. Because urgency is a poor judge of importance. And a life filled with only urgent tasks is unlikely to produce long-lasting results in the things that matter.
Urgency will not drive you to the daily habit of opening God’s Word, it won’t teach you to value the quiet hours of time with your family in the evenings, and urgency does not have time for stopping and praying for wisdom in the midst of the day’s activities. Urgency addicts are panicked, scatter-brained, and frazzled. It’s no way to live.
While we can appreciate the focus which urgency supplements if we are to steward a life of meaningful productivity, we must find a way to be focussed and motivated apart from urgency’s nagging needle.
Urgent but Aimless
The core problem with urgency addiction is disordered motivations. Think about it. Why does urgency work?
Urgency summons drive through the imminent threat of consequences. “If I don’t finish X by noon, the boss will be furious!” or “If I don’t turn in this paper by the deadline, I’ll fail the class!” Those statements are actually true and they are legitimate reasons to complete your assigned task on time, so what’s wrong with leaning on them for motivation?
First, when you depend on urgency for motivation you are setting yourself up for the sin of worry. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6). But when you rely on deadlines for motivation, you are really relying on anxiety. It’s wrong to worry. So, why would we deliberately put ourselves in situations where we incite ourselves to sin against God in this way?
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men”
Second, when you depend on urgency to motivate you you’re doing the work for the wrong reasons. Because when you think about it, it’s not actually the due date that compels you to completion. It’s the fear of repercussions if you don’t meet it—loss of reputation, employment, status, grades, etc. Do you see what all of these have in common? They all have the same focal point: Me. When urgency is the vehicle for your productivity it’s because the fear of man is in the captain’s chair. And of the fear of man, Solomon says, “It’s a trap!” (Proverbs 29:25 Admiral Ackbar Edition)
When we let urgency be the chief motivator we aren’t doing our work out of a desire to please the Lord and serve others, we’re doing it for our own selfish sake. This is wrong. Because in God’s eyes, it’s not just the work itself that matters, He cares why we do what we’re doing.
Third, when you only rely on urgency to supply your motivation, you are also letting it dictate your priorities. Things can be both important and urgent, but if you only work on what’s most urgent that will not guarantee that you are working on what is most important. And you will not be working with purpose toward a defined goal.
This is a stewardship problem. Part of your responsibility before God is to utilize the resources entrusted to you for maximum effectiveness. And that requires planning and prioritization. Urgency cares little for these things. Thus, you will find that a life addicted to urgency is not actually headed in any specific direction because it’s not actually aimed at anything.
What is the alternative to being addicted to urgency then? How can we find motivation and focus apart from it? It’s simple in theory, but difficult in practice. We must plan, pray, and plod.
Plan, Pray, Plod
The opposite of being driven by urgency is being driven by importance. And importance can only be assessed by how it relates to my values and plans.
We have a plodding deliberate work that is sufficiently focussed without requiring our hair to be on fire or quality to be sacrificed. But it requires a heaping scoop of faith to go slow and steady.
I say it requires faith because one of urgency’s addicting qualities is that it simulates progress. “At least I’m doing something!” But just because it feels like you’re moving doesn’t mean you are, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re moving in the right direction.
To plod is to set your eyes on the work before you, put the time and focus into it, and then walk away satisfied with whatever contribution you were able to make that day.
Rinse. Repeat. Day after day.
Plodding is watering the plants, not pulling them up so a few more inches of stem show. Plodding requires patience and trust that the Lord rewards faithful effort in the right direction. Plodding is just continuing to show up day after do and working on the next thing that needs to be worked on. It’s walking by faith. And it’s the type of productivity that truly pleases the Lord.