Make Haste Not Speed: Quit Your Addiction To Urgency

Published by Tim D'Arcy on 7 July, 2013

Stress is a natural human response when we lose control over our workloads and as demands made of us, as a resource, escalate.

What would you think if you saw a crab canoodling with a butterfly? A hare hauling a snail shell?

Too busy rushing through your working day to give it much thought? How ironic, given these unusual couplings are symbolic of an oft-quoted maxim: Make haste not speed.

The meaning of this little adage is that activities should be performed with a proper balance of urgency and diligence. If tasks are rushed too quickly or ‘reactively’ then mistakes are more likely to be made and positive long-term results are less likely to be achieved.

However, so often in the workplace, and even more generally in life, a misplaced and sometimes omnipresent sense of urgency can lead us all into a world of pain – never completing tasks or completing them poorly, feeling stressed, overwhelmed or to quote one Bilbo Baggins, like “butter scraped over too much bread”.

So, where does this familiar urgency and panic routine come from?

Stress is a natural human response when we lose control over our workloads and as demands made of us, as a resource, escalate.  Stress at work is simply a fine balance between efficiency and demand.  A small to moderate amount of stress is ok – it can even help fuel our focus and efficacy to complete tasks – but too much has a physiological impact on our bodies and our productivity, which then kills our efficiency.

Physiologically, stress fills us with a potent cocktail of cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline, which are designed to give us a rush of blood to the head to either face the imminent danger of that 24-hour turnaround report head-on, or run for the hills.

Chronic stress has been linked to health problems ranging from heart disease to asthma to ulcers, and “the cardiovascular health risk it poses is not dissimilar to the risk conferred by cigarette smoking”, says Laura Kubzansky, Associate Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard School of Public Health (March 8 2013).  So you see why it’s important for us all to quit our urgency cycle in the workplace: Make haste not speed.

So how do we do that?

In a PEPworldwide study of 4,200 workers, those who seldom or never put off what they could address immediately reported markedly lower stress levels. A similar relationship was found for those who seldom or never accumulated a backlog of work.

“Nice for some,” you may argue, “but I’ll bet they were working overtime to do it.”
Not necessarily. It’s all about ‘prioritising by importance’.To do this, simply assess a task’s importance to you, your team and your business. An important and urgent task is delivering a time-bound report to a client. An urgent but relatively less important task is the weekly team meeting to discuss and share ideas.

Last month, we emphasised the usefulness of the PEPworldwide ‘Do it Now (if it will take you less than 10 minutes) or Decide Now’ philosophy to help personal management and efficiency. Use it to prioritise new tasks that appear on your list of demands.

If you’re not going to address the issue right this minute, then decide exactly what you are going to do with it.  Develop it (take it to the next level), diarise it in your Outlook, designate it to your task list, delegate it, do it routinely (for example, checklists or invoices you can regulate), deposit/file it, dump/delete it or get help if you need more information.  These guidelines can help you to prioritise tasks and build personal organisation and thus efficiency.

With your tasks prioritised, manage your exposure to external influences. Access to emails is now potentially 24/7 with smart phones and tablet technology ‘conveniences’.  According to PEPworldwide studies of 5,000 workers, 50% of the population received more than 25 emails per day. This equates to at least 25 moments of reactivity and distraction and is not going to be conducive to efficient and productive work streams!

In 2008, scientists concluded that people consume three times more information on a daily basis as they did in 1960. New research shows that workers change computer windows or check email or other programs nearly 37 times an hour.  That’s a lot of kerfuffle!

Do not be afraid to turn these gadgets off for a period of time while you’re working on something important. It’s old-school, but effective. PEPworldwide recommends no more than 2-3 inbox checks a day – any more than that and you are escalating your stress levels and feeding your urgency addiction.

Next month, we’ll dive deeper into the magic of email efficiencies – until then, deep breaths…

Top tips for ditching the urgency fix:

    • Adopt a ‘Do it Now or Decide Now’ approach to tasks – it will simplify your lif


    • Prioritise by importance: assess the impact on you, your team, your business


    • Use your Outlook calendar to your advantage: set time for important work or tasks and ensure what’s physically on your desk represents exactly what you need to achieve in that time.


    • Do not allow external factors to influence your task at hand; turn off your phone and shut down your Outlook – the world will continue to turn while you get something important done.


    • Don’t go to the opening of an envelope – do you really need to go to that meeting? Decline if your presence won’t benefit you or the team (remember: prioritise by importance!).


  • You are a finite resource – learn how to calm down when the going gets tough, be it through meditation or deep breathing, a walk around the block or a gym session (in other words, don’t rely on a vino at the end of the day to get your zen on..).
workplace stress, time management, work-life balance

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