Lori Zimmermann of Santa Barbara, California, worked for a large international retail organization for eight years. She entered corporate America with the intent to stay and make a career. But after eight years, she called it quits and started freelancing to have more control over her work hours and her life.
“I never felt finished at work,” she explains. “While I could maintain the status quo, I really couldn’t make it better. We worked up to 60 hours a week just to get the job done. It wasn’t directly said you had to do it, but everyone else was working that hard, so you just felt it was expected.”
She walked away from a guaranteed salary, a benefit structure, and stock options to have flexibility and control over her time. “Although it has certainly made things tougher financially, I’ve never regretted my decision,” she states.
She is not alone. More and more workers are questioning their role in corporate American and it’s “ASAPs” climate. Today’s corporate culture is “hooked” on urgency where everything is a priority, needing to be done yesterday. This “urgency addiction” has become a way of life, a workaholic culture. Company routine revolves around a series of emergency “fires” that need extinguishing immediately. Employees run from project to project with caffeine energy and buckets of sand. Sprinkling a little sand here, a little there, they feel exhausted at the end of the day, yet cannot point to any specific accomplishment or finished project.
Urgency addiction permeates today’s organizations and affects all who work there. It produces an adrenaline rush of feeling important, but soon leads to exhaustion and burn out. Those who attempt to fight it by asking, “But, which one is the priority?” are told, “Everything is a priority.” Employees dance as fast as they can but fall increasingly behind.
Workers try to compensate by taking work home, coming in early, or sacrificing time on weekends to improve productivity with no interruptions. This additional effort is usually rewarded with yet another project, another area of responsibility, and more simmering fires to extinguish.
By accepting bonuses, promotions, stock options, and buy-outs, boomers are trapped with “golden handcuffs” that make it difficult to leave, hard to stay, and impossible to say “no.” Money becomes the goal rather than a means to an end. Workers find that each rung of the success ladder only takes them to a higher level of urgency addiction. As one executive explained, “I’m at the top, but I don’t like the view.”
Some techniques to fight urgency addiction in your life:
*Review your calendar at the beginning of the week. Highlight the priorities and goals for each day. This will help you to narrow your focus. While unexpected emergencies may occur, you will be much less likely to be in a reactive mode if you take time to plan. *Avoid hop-scotching. Resist hopping from one project to another without finishing what you start. You know what I mean; you start cleaning up a pile on your desk and then decide to create a file system. When you go to look in the files, you realize they have to be thinned, and so on. Finish one thing before you move on to something else. *Do big projects first. You may have a tendency to gravitate to the projects or work that is easy to do. These often tend to be small projects that are “no-brainers.” Possibly you kid yourself that if you just clean up these small projects, you can give your full attention to the big things. The problem is never getting around to the large projects. So start with the ones you really don’t want to do and the small ones will get done along the way. *Have a sign over your desk that reads: Lack of planning on your part… is not necessarily an emergency for me.