by Maisie Smith on June 25, 2015
I bolted upright in bed, momentarily stunned that I was in a dark bedroom rather than on the phone in my work cubicle. Heart racing, I plopped back on my pillow and stared at the whirring ceiling fan above me.
Cheapo neoprene beer sleeves had been swirling around in my brain all day and it had now come full-tilt… I was actually dreaming about koozies.
Earlier that day, a client had desperately placed a last minute order of them at the advertising agency I was working at. “Make them happy” was my only instruction.
I called around to factories like a mother trying to find her toddler in a Chuck E Cheese ball pit. Frantic. “Look, I need 250 of your tangerine sunset Neat-o Neoprene Koozies with a 1-color logo by Thursday. My boss is Mr. Big Kahuna and he said you’d drop everything and make this happen for us.”
All I could think about was koozies. And FedEx pick-up times. And our insane client who had nothing better to do than call me every hour or whenever the itch of insecurity was too great.
Now I was dreaming about them. Losing sleep over a freaking beer holder. Would our factory get the order right? Would they ship them in time to arrive for our client’s event? What if they shipped kazoos instead of koozies?
I dragged my tired body into work the next day, to be greeted by a voicemail from our factory. “We’re sorry to inform you that your koozie order did not ship out as expected. It will now be arriving on Friday.”
Oh, Holy Hell.
The call to the client sucked. Indignant doesn’t even begin to describe his reaction. I felt like I was underwater for most of the conversation, but I did catch phrases such as “you ruined our whole event” and “we don’t ask for much” and “maybe we need to find someone who actually cares about our business.”
I hung up the phone and stared for a moment at the stark industrial concrete walls of our hip advertising agency. And then blurted out to all of my co-workers within earshot,
“It’s not like we have a heart in a cooler, racing against time to save a life!”
It was a box full of beer holders.
And that’s when everything changed for me.
I no longer staked my claim of self-worth on “The Business of Urgency.” Instead, when the frenetic energy of an advertising agency rattled my soul… and my nerves… I’d ask myself, “Is this ‘heart in a cooler’ important? Or merely ‘that’d be nice’ important?”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the addiction we have as a society to urgency. We check our email 10 times an hour. We reply back to Facebook comments within minutes. We call so-and-so right back. We hurry up… because there are other people waiting in line. We all all-nighters because someone said, “I need this first thing in the morning.”
We are all riding the high of being under pressure.
Technology has allowed us to communicate with others immediately. We get answers in mere seconds. This has led to an expectation of instant responses, of instant attention. “OMG, Mr. Dinkleshorts hasn’t replied to my email!” Yeah, maybe Mr. D had to go to the bathroom and decided not to take his phone with him. Maybe he’s in a yoga class. Maybe he’s busy playing with his collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Who knows.
Living in this constant state of emergency, where everything is urgent and imperative and important is exhausting. I see it all the time in my work as a freelance writer. Too much to do. All of the things are crucial. Better start stocking up on Red Bull for inevitable all-nighters.
And then I pause.
Because most of it is nowhere near heart-in-a-cooler urgency.
When everything is urgent, then nothing is. Like that crummy little boy who cried wolf, eventually those things that truly are urgent… like accidentally sending a client a spreadsheet with net pricing or an angry wolverine trapped in your A/C vent… become nothing more than the dull noise of a society that worships being busy.
I understand the desire to swoop in and be the hero. Who doesn’t want to save the day for their clients and customers? But, again, your heroism eventually becomes status quo Sooner or later, that’s all you’ll be doing. File it under A for “Another overlooked skill on your resume: depreciated superhero.
So what’s a person to do in a world that expects us to drop everything to make shit happen for others?
First, always meet your deadlines. Always keep your promises. Always. Stick to schedules. Don’t create an actual urgent mess for your clients or customers to clean up because you didn’t want to put forth the effort needed to make them feel important.
Check email three times a day. Not 20. Not 40. Three times. Set a precedent for your response time. I aim for 8 hours, but no more than 24 hours. It’s never 10 minutes.
Slow down and start enjoying life. Cherish it. Appreciate it. Use it up. Don’t waste it on the “business of being busy.”
One week from now, will that “urgent” meeting about switching to generic post-it notes matter? One year from now, will that client who got pissed off because it took you a day to return his email keep you up at night? Twenty years from now, will that social media post that you didn’t reply to even cross your mind? At the end of your life, will you be saying to yourself, “Boy, I sure am glad that I spent my time dealing with everyone’s urgent needs!”? Shit, I hope not. That would be so incredibly sad.
Perspective. It matters a lot in this thing called life. Urgency for the sake of feeling important? Not so much.
To hearts in coolers and knowing the difference,