Urgency Vs. Productivity
Because they are often at odds with each other
We live in a fast-paced, hectic, chaotic, results-driven society. One would have to be living under a rock to argue otherwise. No matter what kind of job you have, unless you are lucky enough to be self-employed or work in a field that somehow has escaped this trap, you answer to a boss or supervisor who’s endgame is getting the most things done in the least time possible.
Whether you work in retail or a factory or an office analyzing the most up to date stock information, our drive is increasing productivity.
But what does this mean exactly?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines productivity this way:
“The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.”
And this is why, more often than not, urgency is so closely tied to productivity when we are having discussions on the matter.
The attitude is that we need to get more things done. We need to put out more widgets because otherwise we won’t be able to compete with the other guys making widgets. So we are pushed by those in charge of us to move faster and faster and faster to produce more and more and more.
The problem is, especially in a manufacturing or team working environment, people can only produce so much in so much time before the quality of work begins to suffer.
This is why we see so much burnout in whatever industry you look at. This is why turnaround is so high in the fast food sector. Besides the fact that the quality of laborer is diminished for some reason, people can only handle so much stress and pressure before they crack and have to walk away.
I would hazard to argue that the majority of your (fellow) employees would come back after they walked away if there was the freedom to walk away. If mental health were considered a key factor in the productivity discussion.
But I digress…
The harder and harder we push to get more and more things done faster and faster in the same period of time with the same number of people, the more and more we see a diminishment in not only the quality of work being produced, but in the urgency with which the work is done.
This is not because people may not want to succeed or may not want to get the work done, but, rather, because the workers are getting tired. Morale is slipping. The more and more people feel like what they are doing is not enough, the less and less they feel they need to do because…well…
No matter how much you do, there is more you are expected to do. And with more urgency.
This is the problem.
Words have meanings and I do not think, in most cases, that we are given to understand what words mean before they are thrown at us.
If you work in retail, you are told that you need to deal with store conditions with urgency. And the main idea behind is this to deal with conditions with swift action.
But urgency is not merely doing a thing quickly. Anyone can do something fast. But the more you push someone to work quickly, the more you see the quality of their work decline. Corners are cut and, eventually, despite the speed at which the people are doing the tasks, the work is not actually getting done. People are moving fast for the sake of moving fast.
We have inadvertently placed urgency and productivity into a competition with each other.
We either are productive and get the work done, or we are quick yet ineffective and unable to complete the work.
Because urgency has a further, deeper, definition.
Urgency also carries with it the quality of being insistent or persistent. Urgency is longsuffering. Urgency is patient.
Urgency says, “We have to get this done. And we have to get it done now. But we also have to get it done right.”
Take climate change for example.
Ice caps are melting and therefore causing the mass death of entire species of animals. Climate change is caused by the burning of large volumes of fossil fuels which create CO2 which results in a greenhouse effect that heats the planet which melts the ice.
This requires swift action.
But imagine what would happen if we all just stopped using fossil fuels right now. You stop your car, turn it off. All electricity shuts off. Manufacturing grinds to a permanent standstill. No heat. No air conditioning. Nothing. This is a bad, doomsday scenario. It is an unrealistic expectation.
But if we deal with climate change with true urgency, we would find new ways to power our world that do not have the negative impact on our environment caused by carbon emissions. We would find these solutions quickly but also in a manner that does not hurt the final quality of the action.
We are urgent without diminishing productivity.
Let us bring this home.
We live in a culture of 24–7 work. We bring our emails and phone conferences home with us and do our jobs around the clock. We stress over what we did not finish the day before. We neglect our families or treat them poorly because we are so consumed with the urgency of everything around us.
The quality of our work, on the job and at home, is diminishing because we live in a world where productivity and urgency are fighting a never ending battle with each other.
Practically speaking, we need a way to deal with this. And I will give you some tools for addressing this problem next time.