The global "urgency addiction" costs companies and society.

Dec 08, 2023

We are all essentially subject to pressure from messages, emails, and tasks accompanied by "immediate," "urgent," "now," or "urgent" labels, greatly undermining the productivity of businesses—and the problem is global.

If it's difficult to find the time to sit and read this text, there's probably a reason for it—though it's likely not a particularly good one. There will almost certainly be a phone call to address, an "urgent-marked" email requiring a quick response, firefighting for a given task, or an important conversation with a colleague or employee interrupting with a question that demands an immediate answer. Concepts like Urgent and Important are familiar from Stephen R. Covey's bestseller "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

Therefore, it may not be surprising that it can be challenging to tackle more long-term strategic tasks. FranklinCovey conducted a seven-year corporate study with over 400,000 participants worldwide, highlighting the problem with utmost clarity. The conclusion of the study is that employees in today's companies are more frequently distracted than ever in their work, leading to a lot of wasted time and a constant feeling of working in a crisis mode. As a result, most end up spending much less time on the work that truly matters to the companies.

An Unpleasant Statistic

The statistics from the study reveal some truly unpleasant figures:

  • 54 percent of respondents say they spend a significant portion of their time on activities that demand their immediate attention but have little significance for their highest priorities. These include unnecessary interruptions, irrelevant meetings, and phone calls and emails that are in no way critical.
  • 55 percent feel that the demands and needs of others prevent them from working towards the goals and results they themselves—and the company—consider critical.
  • 54 percent constantly deal with issues relevant to others but not to themselves.
  • 28 percent have a perception of rushing around all day but actually contribute very little to the company's most essential priorities.

Overall, the respondents in the study feel that they spend more than half of their working time on tasks and issues that are irrelevant or subordinate due to pressure from others. And more than a quarter of those surveyed are permanently in a state of haste, trying to solve as many tasks as possible but achieving only superficial success in relation to the company's goals.

Why Does the Problem Arise?

Today's corporate culture is permeated with a "hurry addiction," reinforced by aggressive and pervasive ringtones, vibrating mobile phones, and notification sounds from incoming emails. These disruptions contribute to wanting to respond immediately to everything. The brain is constantly disturbed by the many interruptions to the extent that the brain actually expects interruptions as part of the work culture.

A negative consequence of the dependence on quick fixes is that we increasingly spend our lives firefighting. The most pressing tasks attract the majority of our attention, and many employees consider it the norm to go from one firefight to the next.

  • 54 percent of respondents in the FranklinCovey study say they constantly engage in firefighting and are in an almost permanent crisis mode.
  • 35 percent of those surveyed are accustomed to being called into a project where they must make a significant contribution to the company's key projects at the last minute.

If you constantly work in a crisis mode, stress levels increase to alarmingly high levels, resulting in a reduction in the quality of employees' thinking. This leads to a recognizable feeling that one is not able to stay on top of all projects—or any of them at all, in the worst case.

Wasted Time Costs Billions

Once you've become dependent on quick fixes, you constantly experience new fires erupting around you, and unfortunately, it also negatively affects your personal life.

  • 44 percent of those surveyed in the study use weekends to "recover" from the workweek, leaving no time for more meaningful weekend activities.
  • 20 percent of respondents find that, as a consequence, they spend too much time on busyness, junk mail, unnecessary TV watching, internet trivia, gaming, and similar irrelevant leisure activities.
  • 32 percent believe they waste time in front of the TV or on the internet.

And it's an expensive pleasure—not least for companies. In North America alone, employees waste time on irrelevant urgent tasks equivalent to a value estimated by company management at $134 billion annually ( The figure for Australia is $87 billion (, while British firms report a figure of around £80 billion (

It prompts consideration of what the future may hold in terms of wasted time as the problem continues to rise. Conversely, what would the consequence be if employees wasted only half the time they currently do on irrelevant urgent tasks? And what would happen if all meetings became one-third more efficient than they are today? And how would the world and business look if employees could spend two-thirds of their working time exclusively on tasks that matter to the organization, rather than wasting time on small and irrelevant urgent tasks? It could likely be worth billions for both companies and society.



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