Real urgency … is an emotion. It’s a gut-level determination to get up every day, every single day, and to do something, no matter how small, to push along your capacity to grab the big opportunities or to avoid the big hazards.” — John Kotter, Change Management Expert
This quote, from Kotter’s book A Sense of Urgency, helps to explain the importance of urgency in the workplace. Urgency is characterized by a tangible ambition, rather than a feeling about a task you may or may not accomplish someday.
Most consultants understand the meaning of urgency when they start a project because their compensation as well as their reputation depend on being able to deliver faster and more efficiently than in-house resources (in other words, the company’s own employees).
But just knowing the definition of urgency doesn’t explain how to achieve it.
Urgency comes from the ability to eliminate unnecessary activities and time drains so you can focus on productivity. However, simply moving quickly in a “business as usual” mode is not enough to achieve a level of true urgency and effectiveness. There is an essential level of inner motivation required.
Thinking like a consultant requires you to step out of your everyday work routine and view your situation from a different perspective. It helps to jolt your brain out of the everyday routine.
Imagine that you have one day to improve your performance or be fired. What would you do differently? Which of the tasks on your to do list would you focus on? Which meetings would you skip?
You should be proud of your work and what you are able to achieve, but are you pushing yourself to be as effective as possible everyday, the same way you would if your job was on the chopping block? This is one way that high performing employees set themselves apart from their peers.
Especially for consultants who could be looking for a new job every few months, it is incredibly important to be firing on all cylinders while only doing the most critical tasks. Otherwise, your days become consumed with trivial activities and time slips away from you.
A few years ago, my daughter asked me a question. Could I just work slower on my project so it takes longer? Then I would not have to look for a new job as soon and since I get paid by the hour, I would make more money.
My answer to her was that when I complete projects as quickly as possible, my client often gives me a new project to work on in another part of their company. This is better for me since I do not have to find the project myself and better for the client, since they have continuity and leverage a proven resource (me). Clients prefer a consultant that they know will help them be more productive and efficient, rather than wasting time and running up the clock.
Why should this be different for a full time employee than a consultant?
An important part of working with efficiency is prioritizing. Tasks can be prioritized by deadlines, how long they will take to complete, and how important they are to completing your task as an employee. Urgency is important, but when applied to the wrong tasks its effects will be minimized.
Deadlines are important, but they are not the primary way in which tasks should be organized. Try creating a list of tasks, estimating how long they will take and breaking up similar jobs to keep yourself engaged, and organizing them from most important to completing your overall goals to least important. Constantly reevaluating the importance and value of each undertaking is key to completing your job efficiently.
Most articles about efficiency are targeted at executives trying to inspire their employees to work harder or motivate them. A more effective method would be for each employee to “think like a consultant” and develop their own inner sense of urgency. This is not the easiest way but it will deliver the best results in the long run.
Emma Iskowitz contributed to this article.