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What is the Urgency Effect and How to Work Around It

We do it all the time. There’s something that we have to do that’s pretty important, along with the list of not-so-important things. We tend to do the things that aren’t really necessary because there is a sense of urgency tied to them. If you’re writing a paper, and someone sends you a text, you might feel inclined to message that person back only because a response is more urgent than finishing at that time. The question is why? Why do we only tend to the things at hand when there are much higher priority tasks that need to get done. This is what’s called the urgency effect.

The urgency effect comes from the need of instant gratification. We tend to prioritize instant satisfaction over long-term success. One study shows that people are more likely complete tasks that have a deadline rather than more long-term projects that are more important, but do not have a deadline. In other words, we rather do smaller tasks even though the long-term project would have more consequences if done incorrectly.

The problem is the idea of the deadline. If you receive tasks that are relatively small, but have a deadline you’ll treat them with greater importance than any task without one. When the longer term projects come, you automatically delete them from your to-do list. Another issue is the difficulty of that longer project.

What Should You Do?

To get passed the urgency effect, take an inventory of your tasks. Really see which items are important regardless of deadline. Sometimes deadlines are arbitrary, and missing that deadline is inconsequential. Really take a look at what you have to do. Prioritize them on your own availability to do the work, not others. If the long-term projects are too much to bear, try cutting each process into micro-goals. This way, the project seems more manageable, and so you’re not waiting for the last minute to get started.