Have you noticed how a ‘looming deadline’ can help people to finally act as necessary? As long as they had ‘enough time’, progress was slow (or inexistent) … It’s only when they told themselves they had to act NOW’, that the necessary self-discipline showed up… In fact – nothing new there – we all know how important it is to create a sense of urgency. But are we good at it? In this insight we want to dig a little deeper into what it takes to create a sense of urgency.

If, as a leader you want others (or yourself) to urgently start acting on something important, there are 3 important elements:

  1. The activity must be seen as a priority
  2. It has to be consequential
  3. It must be considered urgent


Let’s go through these elements with an example: ‘preparing flawless meetings’. 

Create a sense of urgency


1. It’s a priority

If you are like most people in the corporate world, you attend much more meetings than you would like to… Now – let’s be honest – isn’t it true that many (if not most) of these meetings are not as effective as you’d like… Why? Because they’re not prepared as well as they should be. In fact – it’s funny. Anybody would agree on the importance of good meeting preparation. But in reality, most people spend their day running from one meeting to the other … without preparing as necessary… The reason? The typical answer is ‘lack of time’. We call it differently through. We call it ‘lack of priority’: as long as people find ‘attending meetings’ more important than ‘preparing meetings’, the problem will continue … too many meetings, and so ineffective ones… You really want high quality meetings? Make ‘preparing good meetings’ more important than ‘attending meetings’.

This is true for meetings. It’s also true for any other activity you need to act upon.

Therefore – lesson number one – if you want to create a sense of urgency for an activity or a project, you need to make explicit it’s a priority – i.e. it’s more important than the other things it ‘competes’ with…

2. It’s consequential

Whilst we were mentioning above that many meetings are insufficiently prepared, that’s not true for all meetings. Most people (also those with extremely busy agenda’s) will take the necessary time to prepare for a Board presentation. Why? Because they know they couldn’t get away with poor preparation. It would be too embarrassing (and consequential…)

Imagine that, after any meeting, the meeting attendants were asked to rate the quality of the reunion (and its preparation) and the average score was communicated to the leader of the meeting, ànd to his or her boss. Good or bad meeting? The meeting leader gets the feedback immediately. And their boss does so as well. What impact do you expect? Of course people would prepare well for their meetings!
Now compare that to what typically happens: meetings are ill prepared – and the meeting organizer gets away with it. Not even the slightest remark…

Again – this doesn’t apply to meetings only. It applies to any activity or project you want progress upon.

Which brings us to lesson number two with regards to creating a sense of urgency. Make explicit the impact will be felt. Ensure that ‘putting in the effort’ will lead to immediate great consequences, whereas not doing so will lead to immediate awkward results…

3. It’s urgent

As mentioned in the intro, the thought ‘I still have some time…’ makes people postpone their actions. Does the following sound familiar? “You know – this meeting is only in a week – I’ll prepare it later… ” A couple of days later: “I still have a couple of days… no worries…” And the day before the meeting: “Oops … the meeting is already tomorrow and I still haven’t done anything…’.  So what’s the next thought? “Aie … I won’t be as well prepared as I wanted well it’s too late now … butI’ll do better next time”. And you know what? Next time exactly the same happens: (1) “I still have time to prepare … I’ll do it later this week”, (2) “Time is getting short, but I’ll get there”, (3) “Oops – I’ll have to do it in a hurry again…’.

Compare that to somebody who says ‘I need to act NOW – not tomorrow, not later today, NOW’….

And that leads us to lesson number three with regards to creating a sense of urgency. Make it clear acting later is not an option. Show good ‘future intentions’ are worth nothing. Be clear the only time to act is NOW.

You want to get yourself to stop procrastinating and act now?  
You want others to have sufficient sense of urgency?

  • Make explicit the required activity is more important than other activities,
  • Clarify how people won’t get away with ‘not acting’,
  • Keep as mantra that the only time to act is NOW.


This article digs deeper into 1 of the 7 reasons why people don’t get themselves to act on their good intentions. Click here if you want to read the 6 other typical obstacles. 

Contact us if you want if you want help in reaching ‘sustainable peak performance‘ for yourself or your team.