The answer to that question is simple to understand, but not as easy to execute. Some of the most important things in life are accomplished when we have a sense of urgency. And some of the greatest stresses we endure are experienced when we are bombarded and ambushed by the urgencies of life. What’s the difference? It’s the locus of control. Are the stresses coming from the outside—an external locus of control—or are they coming from within—an internal locus of control.
One individual experiences all the urgent issues of life caving in on them. They are ambushed from without. They panic, become anxious, lose sleep, and worry. They rush to put the fire out, only to discover there is another fire beginning at the place they just vacated. They fail to accomplish what’s important to them because of all the fires that need dousing. This is what Stephen Covey referred to a few years ago as the tyranny of the urgent, spending too much time on what is urgent, and not enough on what is important.
The other individual is more centered. They have an internal locus of control. They know what’s important to them and what they need to accomplish. As a result they create a sense of urgency within themselves. It’s based on their core values, and has a direct tie-in to what they see as important. They are not a victim of circumstances, running around putting out fires. They have some sense of control as a direct result of creating their own fire. They motivate themselves, making sure they are accomplishing with a sense of urgency, what is important to them personally, their organization, or their business. In a true sense they are responding to urgencies, and not emergencies.
John Kotter suggests that today, too many workers —including executives—do not have a sense of urgency about their work. This is seen up and down the corporate ladder. This does not mean that workers should be running around with their hair on fire. It does mean that the workers are focused on what’s important. They have defined reality and they understand the need for change so that their focus is in alignment with reality. They celebrate their victories, but are never complacent. They understand that they live in a world where change is continuous and not episodic. They know that the company cannot rest on its laurels. This cannot happen without creating a sense of urgency.
Google creates a sense of urgency in their culture even though they have $30 billion in the bank. They continually create fires. They don’t react to external fires. They create fires based on realities they see. Their internal message is, “We are not perfect. Don’t get comfortable.” Nothing is ever totally done, and their mantra is “We are not good enough yet.”
Dell Computer, on the other hand, was ranked #1 in computer manufacturers a few years ago. They started reading their own press clippings, became complacent and lost that sense of urgency. They found themselves taking a nosedive in the rankings. They fired the CEO, brought Michael Dell back in, and the sense of urgency returned in incremental stages. At the end of the week and over the weekend his ten direct reports would make a list of things that weren’t right. Then on Monday the ten direct reports would meet with Michael Dell in what has come to be known as The Hour of Horror. They would pick one or two items on the lists and work on them. The message was, “We are not perfect. Don’t get comfortable.”
This message also parallels our daily lives. The successful person creates a sense of urgency in themselves. They get up each day with that urgent feeling in their gut. They know what’s important to them and they set out to accomplish what’s important. Each day this urgency is created, because complacency allows one day to flow into the other with no accomplishment. They don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. This focus is fueled by the urgency, and not the emergency, of the day. If an emergency arrives, it doesn’t derail them for long. Their outward circumstances are less compelling and urgent. When our locus of control is external, we find ourselves dealing with a plethora of issues. We don’t need to find them. They find us. When this happens, we are not creating a sense of urgency. We are reacting to the stresses of life.
Are you a victim or a victor? Does your urgency lead to stress or success? Are you reacting or creating? This leads to ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that will produce the results that you want. It creates clarity and will help rid you of the needless clutter that can slow you down. Everything is not an option, so focus on the important things.
Practicing this simple habit will not only assist you in avoiding the hazards of life, but will also help you recognize and take advantage of the opportunities that are there.