As I was filling up my water bottle this morning, I turned the faucet all the way up. The high water pressure caused my bottle to overflow. This wasted water was all because I was trying to fill up my bottle faster than it could accommodate. This observation was heightened by a recent conversation with my friend Daniel, a sustainability consultant with whom I’m currently working on a project. He made the observation that urgency creates waste, and therefore isn’t a sustainable act. This comment caused me to reflect on three reasons urgency makes waste:

Manufactured Urgency

Sometimes organizational positional leaders create a sense of urgency that isn’t really urgent. For example, some managers have egos and a desire to create a specific outcome that makes them look good to their higher-ups. As a result, they use urgency to drive their individual need to be recognized. 

This kind of urgency isn’t urgent in the bigger picture of things. In my experience, “manufactured urgency” wastes time, and energy, and pulls the focus off of more impactful activities or projects. In this case, urgency is not a sustainable act. 

Impatience 

The second thought had to do with impatience, both my own and others. In my water bottle example, my impatience caused me to turn my faucet too high to accommodate the opening in my bottle. When I notice this behavior, I consciously breathe slowly and turn the faucet lower to stay in the moment. Similarly, being impatient in an organization can cause waste because it makes us want to move faster than the living system can accommodate. 

I have found that living organizations have a rhythm to them. Sometimes they cycle fast and other times they cycle more slowly. Just like the seasons of a year, nature has seasons for new growth, sustained growth, letting go, and hibernation. If we pay attention to our organization’s rhythm and pace our work to match that rhythm, things move faster and with less resistance.  

Diana Hunt and Pam Hait wrote The Tao of Time in 1991. Even though it is a book that has been around for a while, I have found the concepts in the book meaningful to this day. One of these concepts is that time can be experienced in different ways as we do our daily work. Sometimes every task seems like we are pushing a big rock uphill. Every task and interaction has unexpected challenges and takes time and energy to accomplish. This is how you know you are out of rhythm with your organization and its people. At other times, it is like time is rolling a bolder downhill being aided by gravity. It is on days like this that you get out all your hard tasks and work on them because you are in rhythm with your organization. Urgency and waste don’t come up when time is rolling downhill. 

Disregard for others 

The third thought was that sometimes there is a genuine urgency to a task or project. In this situation, I reflect on my response to urgency and determine whether it creates “waste” as I respond to it. Do I remain mindful when something urgently needs to be accomplished? Am I present or does my adrenaline kick in and make others anxious around me? No one works at their best if they are nervous, anxious, or afraid to fail. My response as a leader can bring focus and productivity to the task without emotional trauma and drama. 

I invite you to start noticing when urgency shows up in your team or organization and see if there is a pattern to what becomes urgent. Is the urgency you experience really urgent, or is it generated by individuals that like creating chaos around them?