Recently, I was having a bad day, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.
I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t sick; I felt physically strong.
I was even acceptably productive that morning, getting a bit of writing in (which always makes me feel good).
Heck, I even enjoyed a delicious lunch before heading out on a long walk with my dog.
I’d even spent a few minutes of my morning being grateful for all the blessings in my life. Doing that typically leaves me in a quiet, peaceful, appreciative mood.
I had nothing to be melancholy about, but still, I was.
And why did I have an underlying feeling of…”dread”?
Dread might be the wrong word; it was tough to assign a specific label to how I felt. It was more like a continuous underlying level of annoyance.
But I had nothing specific to justify my annoyance. Life was good, so what was my deal?
But again, I was feeling – hmmm, well — what’s the word…
I felt rushed.
Yes, that’s it; I was feeling hurried for some reason, but why?
I’m in a hurry to get things done. Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die, but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.” Randy Vanwarmer / Roger Murrah (Band – Alabama)
The Feeling of Being Rushed
Everyone feels rushed on occasion.
But for some people, myself included, this is feeling is all too familiar.
You see, I used to be chronically rushed.
Over the past few years, I’ve been making a concerted effort to break this nasty habit. I got it from my Father.
He’s what I like to call a “Rushoholic.”
A “Rushoholic” is someone whose default state is rushed. It’s someone who’s chronically future focus at the expense of enjoying the present.
He doesn’t enjoy projects; he completes them, usually in an angry flurry. He works as fast and as furious as humanly possible.
You see, my father was a farmer from the day he was born until the farm sale (in his mid-forties). And I know of no other profession that’s as “hurry up and wait” as farming.
Farmers wait around all winter, doing minor jobs and chores, waiting for the last snowfalls to pass so they can blitz the fields with their planters in tow.
Because every beautiful spring day that passes without seeds in the ground is a lost opportunity – (i.e., lower crop yields), so planting season is a stressful rush.
It often consists of “crack of dawn” mornings followed by “Moonlite” wrap-ups. For the farmer, it’s a zombie-like insomniac existence.
Then once the seeds are in the ground, the fast pace wears off, only to enter into “the season of worry.” Flooding, hailstorms, droughts can all ruin your livelihood in a flash.
Farming is not for the faint of heart.
Then, if you survive those unforeseen obstacles, it’s a new flurry of long days and sleepless nights. The new scramble is to get the crops off the stalks before they fall unprofitably to the ground.
Again, once the crops are ready for harvest, every delay is a lost opportunity (via lower crop yields).
So, if that’s the life you know, it’s the way you become. You get intimate with a deep-seated “sense of urgency.”
You feel it in your bones, in your soul, with every fiber of your being for extended periods at least twice per year.
Even though my Father no longer farms, he still treats most of his projects in the same manner. At this point, it’s too late to change his ways.
He gets things D.O.N.E. (even if the job is a bit sloppy). It’s his default mode of operation.
For him, cutting corners is fine, as long as it works in the end. Looking pretty is something you worry about later (if you ever find the time to circle back around).
When it comes to home projects, for example, he likes to say, “putty and paint make a carpenter what he ain’t.”
So there ya go, a rushed job summed up in an old farmer’s slogan.
I also grew up on a farm from the day I was born until I was 18 years old.
So, I also caught a case of the project urgency bug. Not as intense as my Father, though. Because as a kid, you sense your Father’s urgency, but not as fierce.
You don’t feel the full weight of the burden of responsibility.
Kids don’t fully grasp the real consequences of “if you can’t make it, you’re going broke.”
Now, I’m not knocking a good sense of urgency. Sometimes urgency is necessary. I don’t know of a prosperous farmer who doesn’t have an intense “sense of urgency.”
It’s a requirement – without it, they don’t last.
Also, I suspect an excellent ER surgeon doesn’t waste time at the water cooler dissecting her fantasy football team lineup with a new intern while a gunshot victim is losing copious amounts of blood.
She moves swiftly with purpose and focus – not running but not strolling. Getting all the facts efficiently and wasting no time in doing so.
During any of life’s critical emergencies, a sense of urgency and heightened awareness is key to success. But it’s also important to turn OFF this “sense of urgency” when it’s not necessary.
You need to understand when it’s useful and helpful and when it is not.
For example, when I’m out walking my dog after lunch, it’s not a very helpful attitude. A lunchtime walk should be leisurely. It should be a thoughtful experience – one to be savored and cherished, not rushed.
So why do I find myself yanking on my dogs’ leash to hurry him along?
Heck, it’s my dog’s ONLY opportunity to leave the house all day – and here I am trying to get him to wrap up his sniff session early. What a jerk I am!
It’s as though I have something so much better to get back to in the future…Or maybe I’m rushing because I’m bored.
Boredom Is A Choice
Young children (before the age of 3 or so) don’t know what boredom is. Why? Because nearly EVERY experience is fresh and exciting to them.
Take the kids on a walk around the block, and the rocks and pinecones you barely notice are fascinating to a brand new adventurer.
I vividly recall one afternoon of throwing rocks into a river with my 2-year-old daughter. I was determined not to be the one to stop or cut the fun short due to my boredom.
I wanted her to keep pickin’ and tossin’ until she was 100% satisfied. It took 2 hours!
What was mind-numbingly boring to me, was pure joy for her.
As parents and grandparents, this is one of the hardest things to master. When WE get bored, WE “suggest” to our little ones, to go do something new.
“Hey, little Timmy – How about we try the swings for a while? – Oh, that’s enough, now let’s dig a hole in the sand, ready? – Umm…Do you want to kick a ball around? – Let’s move on…How about a snack – are you hungry?
The little ones are often content to keep doing the same things (if they are fun for them) for hours. And they are having an absolute blast swinging or going down the slide again and again. Or yes, climbing the same damn rock 73 TIMES IN A ROW (but who’s counting)!
But YOU’RE bored, so you use your powers of persuasion to convince them to do something new – to stop find a way to end your painful boredom.
But boredom is a choice.
We should all learn how to find pleasure in the simple things in life. To try and see the world through the eyes of a young child.
For example, when walking my dog, I try to stay focused on all the beautiful noises, sights, sounds. The world is fascinating if you just stop and listen.
Bored people are missing out.
“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” – Bil Keane
A Simple Question Worth Asking
So sometimes urgency is a good thing – often, it’s not.
To figure out if it’s helpful at any given moment, try asking yourself a simple question.
“If the task (or project) I’m currently working on takes me twice as long as “normal” what’s the downside?”
If you’re a farmer harvesting or planting, it’s a lot of lost money – so urgency is smart. It’s required.
If you’re an ER surgeon – twice as long means life and death – so urgency is necessary.
However, if you’re walking your dog, and it takes 1-hour vs. 30 minutes, there is no downside. Heck, walking outside on a beautiful day is probably the best thing you could be doing at that moment.
Are you really rushing through a walk so you can get back home sooner to get started on a multi-season Netflix binge? Seriously?
Do you really need to rush off the fast-food restaurant, blowing off a friendly chat with a next-door neighbor?
Is it a wise choice to hurry through your dinner, just because your default mindset is in urgent mode?
Living a life of urgency by default is a bad way to live. You miss opportunities to connect, enjoy, and experience the best, simple details of life.
“He who sows hurry reaps indigestion.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Urgency, How Useful Is It?
So, there can be a real cost to chronic urgency.
Sure, you “look” like a serious and efficient person when rushing. Yes, your flurry of activity does tend to convey impressive productivity.
But does this “look” translate into results?
Maybe, maybe not…
First off, rushing can often shave a few minutes off a task, but not as much as you think.
We’ve all rushed across town in our vehicles late for an “important” meeting. And wouldn’t you know it, every traffic light and every brain-dead human is out to get you.
You stomp on the gas pedal, slam on the brakes, honk your horn at the slowest dude EVER in front of you. You’re bewildered – HOW CAN HE BE SO CALM, SLOW, AND INCONSIDERATE – CAN’T HE TELL I’M IN A FREAKING HURRY HERE!
Let’s say it’s a 20-minute trek across town. You’ll be lucky if your urgent behavior shaves 5 minutes off your total travel time. You’ll more likely save a mere 2 or 3 minutes.
Why? Because of traffic lights and other safety rules of the road. It’s a fact that your chosen leave time has nearly ALL the control of whether you arrive early, on time, or late.
So, start leaving earlier if you want to avoid rushing.
However, if you choose to rush regardless of this fact, then you’re inviting a lot more risk and error into life than necessary.
Darting in and out of traffic makes accidents much more likely. Maybe you decide to run a “just turned red” light and end up sideswiping someone. Or perhaps you hit a pedestrian or biker in your temporarily insane mental state.
Are an extra 3 minutes saved worth the risk of preventable injury or death?
If something like this happens, you’re not only going to be severely late; you probably won’t make it at all. And you’ll be at fault for the accident you caused.
So, the urgency you had in this situation might not be such a good thing after all…
Urgency On The Job
A stout sense of urgency can be helpful at work, especially if that’s the default culture of the company.
I worked for ten years in a pet food factory as a project engineer, and I had a boss with an extreme sense of urgency.
He always expected you to walk quickly and with purpose: no dilly-dallying and no idle chit chat.
Everything was moving forward with gusto.
So, my boss loved me.
I had all the standard walk and talk urgency cues down pat. I looked like I was getting lots of shit done all the time – but honestly, 85% of it was an act.
I had mastered the art of looking busy.
A coworker of mine – a fellow project engineer – had exactly ZERO sense of urgency. He walked slow. He talked slow. He even ate his lunch excruciatingly slow…
It drove my boss up the freakin’ wall.
My boss was always pestering him about hurrying things along, walking with purpose, time IS money you know…, etc.
But here’s the truth – even with what looked like low urgency, he finished just as many projects as I did throughout the year, most of them on time. But, and here’s the kicker, with fewer errors or significant mistakes.
So, who was the better, more productive engineer? The results suggest it wasn’t me.
It didn’t matter, though, because perception IS reality.
My boss perceived me to be a more productive engineer, so I got the accolades and praises, while my coworker got pestered until he left the company.
“Whoever is in a hurry shows that the thing he is about is too big for him.” – Philip Stanhope
Yet sometimes, urgency is a good thing in controlled dosages. But choric and unnecessarily high levels of it come with added risks of mistakes.
On the other end of the spectrum, low urgency can look bad, especially when delays have serious consequences.
I mean, if a multimillion-dollar factory is down and your boss finds you taking your sweet time to walk to the problem – it doesn’t matter how fast you fix it, it’s not a good look.
Learning My Lesson – Well, Sort Of…
Since I’ve left both the farm and the factory, I’ve been slowly shedding my chronic urgency.
I’ve started to ask myself if the urgency I feel is helping or hurting my current situation.
I’ve learned that asking the right questions can help me sort out whether I should be rushing or not.
So, for those of you who have rushed through his article 😉 here’s the questions you should start asking yourself to match the appropriate amount of urgency with any situation:
- What’s the payoff to rushing right now?
- If I rush, realistically, how much time do I think I can save?
- What’s the risk of rushing in this situation?
- If the task (or project) I’m currently working on takes me twice as long as “normal” what’s the downside?”
- If I take my time and relax, what’s the worst that can happen?
- Is my future activity so exciting it justifies rushing through (and missing) the thing I’m currently doing at this precise moment?
Note: I realize the extreme irony of using bullet points in an article about “not rushing” since bullet points are a writer’s equivalent to rushing to make a point. Ha!
These simple questions help you quickly get to the payoff, risk, and missed opportunities that rushing creates.
Sometimes rushing is worth it – usually, it’s not.
Unfortunately – even with these questions – I’m not entirely cured of this urgent disease.
I still struggle and find myself relapsing into chronic urgency. I’m far too often future-focused on the “next exciting thing” I want to get to; instead of thoroughly enjoying the “current thing” I’m doing.
And the irony is when I finally get to THAT future next “thing” I’m rushing toward, I’m already thinking about “the NEXT future thing.”
And while I’m rushing to get to “the next thing” that somehow seems better than the current moment, I’m missing out on the ONLY part of life there is – THE RIGHT NOW.
That’s why I’m continually trying to remind myself,
“The journey IS the destination.” – Dan Eldon
So, unless it’s absolutely necessary – slow down, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy life. Otherwise, one day you’ll wonder why you were in such a freaking rush to get to the end of it.
“Just In Case” Jack
p.s. – Not rushing through life is not the same as being aloof or disinterested. To be happy and fulfilled, you still need a purpose. A good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
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