Better Me

Urgency Culture: Feeling Like You Need to Do Everything Right Away

Sometimes, it can seem like tasks and responsibilities keep coming at you, and you must handle them all right away. You check your phone for messages as soon as you wake up. You answer work emails within minutes, day or night. You feel like you can’t ever say no.

“Urgency culture is the idea that everything is urgent,” said Alexzis Figueroa, a licensed clinical social worker and director of behavioral health services with Banner Health. “There is no sense of prioritizing one thing or the other. Instead, you need to be on at all times. It blurs the ability to identify what is truly needed at the moment versus what can wait or be delegated.”

Urgency culture can seep into your work and personal life. At work, technology, social pressure and habits can make it seem like you need to be available 24/7 and you must work long hours to meet productivity expectations. You may struggle to complete work where you need to focus and concentrate.

Organizations may make it seem like faster responses mean you’re more efficient. You may face a constant stream of emails, messages and tasks that all feel urgent. “It can seem like workplaces are designed without any boundaries in mind,” Figueroa said.

In your personal life, you might sacrifice the time you need for rest and relaxation so you can be connected and available to your friends and family. You may think you need to respond to messages or notifications immediately or the other person may think you don’t care.

“You might feel like you must drop everything anytime a friend or loved one has a need, or never feel like you can say no to an outing,” Figueroa said. Urgency culture can detract from quality time and meaningful connections.

Urgency culture is a problem for just about everyone. “It isn’t a matter of if urgency culture will affect you, it’s a matter of when,” she said.

What happens when you feel like you’re always doing everything

Your mental health and overall well-being take a hit when you’re drowning in urgency culture. You may feel insecure and believe you are doing things wrong because you feel overwhelmed, exhausted or disillusioned.

You may also struggle to prioritize tasks because you never have time to step back and look at everything on your plate. You might develop chronic stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. 

“Prioritizing everyone else’s needs before yours can leave you feeling depleted,” Figueroa said. “You may find you’re unable to manage basic needs like taking the time to eat, move your body and fuel your soul with hobbies, spirituality or meaningful relationships. You may have tunnel vision — focusing on constant issues, not the big picture.”

Blurry boundaries between work and home, thanks to smartphones, digital communication and working from home, can make challenges worse since it’s harder to find a break from life’s pace. 

Urgency culture can lead to burnout

When you’re overwhelmed by tasks, you might notice these signs of burnout:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Poor job performance
  • Feeling cynical or detached
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Not sleeping well
  • Headaches, digestive issues and changes in appetite or weight

If you notice these signs, take steps to restore balance in your life. When you address burnout early, you’re more likely to prevent serious health issues, strengthen your relationships, build resilience and improve your quality of life.

How to deal with the demands of urgency culture

You’ll want to step back and shift your mindset away from urgency. “I think the number one thing we have forgotten to do is prioritize our relationship with ourselves before anyone else,” Figueroa said. “We must spend time with ourselves to better understand our own needs and how those are served. That’s how we can set boundaries and advocate for ourselves.”

Figueroa recommends setting time daily or weekly for self-reflection to map out where you are emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally and identify what you need. She said, “For example, if you are busy during the week with a high-stress job, how can you ensure you feed your body? Have time to rest?”

Communicate your needs with your family, colleagues and friends, so you’re not alone. You may also want to talk to your supervisor about setting boundaries or limits on availability within the scope of your job. 

“We are all facing urgency culture together, and we are all responsible for helping dismantle the systems that create it. We may live in it, but we don’t have to live by it,” Figueroa said.

Be patient with yourself and others. Take time before you respond and allow others to take their time as well. Remind yourself that immediate results are not always better, and taking time can lead to better decisions and higher-quality work.

Mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises or yoga can help you stay present, reduce stress and manage urgency. Try starting your day with meditation, ending your day with reflection, eating mindfully and taking regular breaks throughout the day. 

Strategies that can help

Setting boundaries and managing expectations can improve focus, reduce stress and anxiety and give you space for work-life balance. These steps can help:

  • Let colleagues, friends and family know your availability and typical response times. 
  • If your job allows, set “office hours” when you are available for immediate responses. 
  • Use email auto responders so senders know you received their message and will reply in a certain timeframe.
  • Put your phone or web apps in do-not-disturb mode when you need to focus or unwind.
  • Set specific times to review and respond to emails and messages during the day.
  • Prioritize communication channels. For example, urgent work communications might come through email, while less urgent matters can be addressed through messaging apps.
  • Use tools like project management software, calendar apps and task managers to keep track of your responsibilities and deadlines.
  • Make to-do lists of your work and personal tasks. Decide whether each task is urgent, important, both or neither. Prioritize the tasks that are both urgent and important.
  • Set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). This can help you stay focused and achieve more without feeling overwhelmed.
  • If you have tasks that others can handle, delegate them. 

The bottom line

It may feel like every email, notification and task needs your immediate attention. But urgency culture can lead to overwhelm, stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. It can help to take a step back, prioritize your tasks and set boundaries. 

If urgency culture is affecting your mental health or well-being and steps to manage it on your own aren’t enough, reach out to a behavioral health provider at Banner Health.

Other useful articles

Behavioral Health