I wouldn't characterize myself as the classic Type-A personality who is driven to win at all costs, but I certainly set high standards for myself personally and for the business I'm building. I have high standards, want to get great things done, and I don't want it to take forever to do them. For many of my friends both within and outside of the business world, that drive for achievement with urgency is a pretty common theme.
Lately, I've given a lot of thought not just to what I achieve but the journey required to achieve it. Mostly, I've been trying to better understand the cost of the achievement.
How is the drive for achievement impacting my quest for work-life balance? And how is it impacting my stress levels?
Often, a great achievement comes with a lot of stress. Sometimes that stress is absolutely worth it in the end. How much of that stress is built into getting the achievement, and how much of it is manufactured and unnecessary?
Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine who is the VP of Sales for a small, global fashion company. She was telling me all of the things she had to do by the end of the week, and I was telling her all of the things I had piled up as well for my company and family. Then I somewhat flippantly joked:
"Aren't all of these deadlines artificial anyway? In actuality, didn't we just manufacture them for ourselves?"
There was a moment of unexpected silence as we both contemplated what I had just said. Maybe there was something to it.
How much stress were we really creating for ourselves simply out of our desire to move things forward, to achieve things quickly, to act with urgency, or to show others we were acting with urgency?
As an experiment, we both decided to take a look at our lists to see how many of the things required real urgency for real reasons and how many we had determined needed to get done by the end of the week simply because we had self-imposed it.
When I was done with my review, it turned out that over half was self-imposed.
I had been stressing out about half of my list when the reality was that my business and family life was in no way going to be adversely affected if those things got done next week. In my desire to achieve, I had manufactured due dates. I had also inadvertently manufactured my own stress unnecessarily.
In business, this happens almost everywhere you go. Large initiatives have deadlines. Sometimes, there are real implications financially and strategically for those deadlines, but sometimes there really aren't.
We just want to move with urgency or feel pressure to do so from others. With that comes our own stress. Unfortunately, the stress doesn't end there. Everyone else around the work gets some of it, too.
I'm guilty of it in my personal life as well, giving myself deadlines for things that probably don't need them. You may do the same. We get so used to urgent deadlines that we apply them almost by habit.
So how do you avoid the trap of artificial urgency without compromising the things that really need to be urgent?
I've been working on it and have found that it may just come down to asking the simple question that you may not be in the habit of asking (I certainly wasn't):
"Why am I choosing this deadline date?"
When I started asking myself this question, I realized that on a good number of occasions, I was choosing a particular deadline simply because it helped me feel like I was getting movement towards achievement. If I had to be honest, there wasn't a real business or personal need for that date.
Ask yourself at what cost is the artificial urgency for your business, for yourself, and for others who are involved in whatever you are doing? I'm finding that the manufactured stress often isn't worth it, especially when I've realized that nothing has been compromised in my business or personal life by moving away from the self imposed artificial deadline.