Resist the Pull of Urgency Bias

So, your 2018 strategic planning session is in the books. You came. You spoke up. You filled dozens of sticky pads with ideas. Now what?

Fast forward to September 2019. Which of those ideas have you put into practice? Which ones are still sitting undone? How would you explain it if someone asked why you didn’t complete your objectives? Would it go something like this?

“Well, I just didn’t have time to get that project.”
“You didn’t have time? Why not?”
“I got busy doing something else and just never got around to it.”

Good Intentions. Poor Results.

All too often, we tell ourselves little white lies. Worse yet, sometimes we even believe them. We trick ourselves into thinking that getting “X” done now will give us the freedom to do “Y” later. The reality is we let too many menial tasks flood our schedules, and we never get around to the important things that matter.

When we focus all our energy on completing those “quick projects” on our to-do list, the major objectives and decisions that will have a significant, positive, lasting impact on our organization never even get started, let alone finished. The little tasks sneak in and steal our attention. If they feel urgent, we’re inclined to move them to the top of our priority list. And when that happens, it’s all too easy to put off “Y”—and maybe even “X”—until tomorrow. And in the words of the great philosopher, Garth Brooks, tomorrow never comes.

Understand the Dangers of Urgency

When I facilitate a credit union’s strategic planning session for the first time, I start by reviewing the last few years’ strategic planning sessions. After this review, I discuss in advance what has been completed and what has not. More often than not, the major projects that called for tough decisions and considerable time commitments lingered and never got finished.

A recent study found that our natural “urgency bias” will usually direct our brain to spend time on tasks that seem urgent, instead of more important ones that may not seem as pressing. In other words, our brains are so powerfully drawn to “urgency” that we choose objectively worse options over objectively better options.

When you leave the frigid conference room and depart from your strategic planning session this year, make it your goal to consistently question your choices over the following weeks and months. And as you question, develop the ability to recognize when your mind gets worked up by sudden requests, but at the same time, be sure to keep your eye on the essential tasks and decisions that will lead to more fruitful outcomes.

Focus Your Attention on Things That Matter Most

Take a cue from the New York poet, Marie Howe, who beautifully captures our tendency to rush around putting out fires in a bittersweet poem titled “Hurry.” It begins:

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?

To keep a proper perspective, weigh your decisions by asking yourself questions like: Are you more concerned with what kind of creamer to pair with your lobby coffee or writing that RFP for a new website? Are you focusing on what kind of swag you should order for the 2019 annual meeting or testing new mobile app providers that can better serve your members’ needs? Eliminate the urgency bias this year, and watch the growth and positive results that come from focusing on decisions that truly matter to your members.

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