Moving people to action can be a challenge. Their calendars and to-do lists are full. The immediate overwhelms the important. That means even what you think is critical for a client, prospect or even your own direct reports can fall off the priority list.

Whether you are selling, serving or leading, you'll need to changes a person's sense of urgency in order to move a person from understanding to action. Most people have a sense of urgency; they are in fact working with speed and purpose. But often their urgency centers on their issues, not yours.

Here are a few ways to change your approach to help reset other people's priorities.

1. Clarify the consequences of inaction.

Classic movies and comics often showed a canoe heading downriver toward a waterfall that the boat's inhabitants don't see. We in the audience know of the impending danger.

When you lay out the upcoming issues, be clear that these are external threats--not yours. The challenge could come from the market, a competitor, technology changes or upcoming events.

2. Set a deadline for action.

You don't build a boat once it is already raining, and you can't paddle back up a waterfall once you have gone past the point of no return.

If you want to change someone's activity now to avoid a future event, that person needs to understand the speed with which trouble is approaching.

3. Provide a road map.

Sometimes a person seeing a formidable problem will shift to denial and avoidance. You need that person to be engaged, however. Provide manageable initial steps--preferably just the first one or two. This can help get a person unstuck and moving toward progress.

4. Offer help.

Who wants one more problem placed on top of the list of priorities? No one. When the problem feels like a drive-by drop and run, the resistance is higher.

If you have confidence that the person--employee, partner, customer--has the full picture and sees the need for immediate action, offer to help. He or she may not choose to use your resources you offer, but just knowing that there is a safety net can help spur action.

5. Encourage, don't nag.

Sales people leave voicemails. Managers send "status request updates"; other executives demand reports. But they all can make a person feel pushed.

If you want to keep the communication honest and open, your check-ins need to feel just a little different. Try offers of help, recommendations, or resources, rather than status requests. Bring something to the table when you connect.

You can use this strategy to spur action from busy people with multiple priorities--which is to say, almost everyone.