How To Manufacture a Sense of Urgency

We all procrastinate. It’s a terrible habit and something we’re all trying to overcome. Even so, there’s a funny thing about procrastination that happens just about every time. We stop doing it when we have just enough time to finish the task at hand.

After weeks of ignoring something, suddenly we know, it’s time to do it or else it won’t be finished. We then proceed to work like mad men (or women) to meet our deadline. It’s stressful, but we almost always rise to the challenge.

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Parkinson’s Law

If you didn’t know, this is Parkinson’s Law at play. It pretty much says that work will expand to fill the time available for completion. For example, if you have a semester to finish a paper, you’ll use that full semester, even if you’ll truly only work on it two weeks before it’s due.

Think back to Apollo 13’s flight to the moon. During that flight an explosion occurred on board that damaged the air filtration system severely, causing a steady build up in carbon dioxide in the space shuttle. This was essentially a death sentence for the three astronauts on the ship, unless they could hack together some sort of contraption that could filter the CO2 as soon as possible.

Back at mission control, the entire team was working furiously to come up with a solution. The engineers, scientists, technicians, and everyone else gathered all the materials that were available to the astronauts and tried to build a solution. Somehow, against the odds they created an unsightly, outdated piece of technology that would serve as a make shift air filtration system. More importantly it worked. They conveyed the designs to the astronauts who were able to replicate the device and save their own lives.

If that’s not the perfect example of urgency at work, I’m not sure what is.

As you can see, that sense of urgency can spark everything from an astounding work-ethic to creative problem solving and everything in between.

The things that we can achieve when we have that urgency are incredible, but we can’t be constantly waiting for time to run out or disaster to strike. There’s a way to create your own urgency, fight procrastination, and get more work done. Here’s how.

Tell Someone, Tell Everyone

In the back of our head, we know how long something will take us and we often know when it has to be done. So if you truly want to get something done sooner, you need to create pressure to do so. One of the best ways of doing this is committing to others that you will deliver your work by a manufactured deadline.

The more people you tell, the more powerful the need to meet that deadline becomes. This is accountability at work and the act of meeting other’s expectations can be more motivating than meeting your own.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Sometimes, telling people isn’t enough and we need to raise the stakes. A more recent idea has been to literally put your money where your mouth is. In essence, you place bets on yourself that you’ll achieve your goal or meet your deadline. If you’re going to finish your book by the end of the year, you could make a bet with your friend that you’ll either accomplish your goal or put $1,000 on the line.

The pain of losing that money could do the trick for certain people. There are a number of great sites that help you setup exactly this sort of scenario, the most popular being stickK. I think I may be trying this method out soon.

Let Other’s Control Rewards

Another approach can be to allow other’s to control your rewards entirely. Say you have a goal, but you also want to go out or buy that new video game or go shopping. You can’t allow yourself that pleasure unless your goal is achieved. Obviously we aren’t the best at self-control, so having someone else be the gatekeeper for the rewards is the key to this strategy.

Have a friend or family member withhold your rewards until your goal is completed. So if you want a new pair of shoes, go ahead and buy them, but you can’t actually have them until you achieve your goal or milestone. Having someone else be the judge of your success and your reward ensures we can’t cheat the system. Moreover, the hope of reward can be a powerful motivator.

Shorten the Timeline

This one is a little more simple, but still effective. Instead of giving yourself ample time to reach your goals, most of which will be lost to procrastination, do exactly the opposite. Give yourself less time than you think you’d need. A lot less. Force yourself into that state of urgency and meeting a deadline, far quicker than you’d normally do so.

Once you get into the flow of working, the momentum and urgency can carry you farther than you’d believe. So instead of giving yourself a week to do something, give yourself a day or an hour or even twenty minutes. The results will surprise you.

Use Competition

Finally, the last approach that I’ve identified to build that sense of urgency is good old competition. Find someone else who has a similar or related task or timeline and share your progress towards reaching that goal regularly.

When you see that your competitor is ahead of you, it’ll definitely get you off your ass to keep up and even surpass the work they have done so far. It’s in our nature to compete and to win, so using it to get work done is a powerful byproduct of the behavior.

In the end, remember that urgency is the key and that if you can manufacture it, you can beat procrastination.

Do you use urgency to be more productive? If so, share your methods and ideas below. Cheers!

Image via flickr.

Originally published at on November 10, 2015.

Writer that designs — or is it the other way around? VP of eCommerce at function of beauty, creator of t-shirts, and lover of books.

Writer that designs — or is it the other way around? VP of eCommerce at function of beauty, creator of t-shirts, and lover of books.