Living in Alignment: Are Urgent Tasks Getting In Your Way?

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Modern life is full of urgent demands on our time…besides the usual deadlines for school and work, there are bills to pay, family activities to plan (and do), household things to fix, and an inexhaustible stream of social media posts that “need” real-time responses. One of the most common reasons people find their lives are not aligned with their priorities is because they have so many urgent things they “need” to tend to first.

But step back for a second, take a deep breath, and ask yourself: Are these urgent tasks actually worth doing?

How Urgency Clouds Our Judgment

Psychologists and other observers of human nature have known for centuries that people are easily biased in favor of things that appear urgent. This is called, unsurprisingly, the urgency bias, and advertisers regularly take advantage of it through “limited time” offers and “today only” types of sales.

As soon as something is presented as urgent, it gains in importance – or at least, it seems to.

A recent study by Meng Zhu and other consumer behavior researchers at Johns Hopkins University confirms how urgency bias clouds our judgment when it comes to prioritizing tasks. Participants were asked to write a product review for one of two products, and “paid” in Hershey’s Kisses – three kisses for one product, and five for the other. They were told the amount of the reward was randomly assigned, and that they could pick which review they wanted to write.

When no deadline for the reviews was specified, everyone (understandably) chose to write the five-Kiss review. But when the researchers told participants that the 3-Kiss review needed to be done in 10 minutes, more than 30% of them chose to write that one – even though they would have gotten almost twice the reward for taking their time with the other option.

The researchers also found that the busier people were, the more their judgment was impaired by the urgency bias.

Does this sound familiar? When was the last time you decided to respond to that meaningless email instead of focusing on the conversation with the person right in front of you? That downward spiral of disconnection feeds on itself, making us less and less in touch with what truly matters in life.

Using Self-Connection to Make Better Decisions

The research is clear: In the heat of the moment, with external time pressures ticking in our faces, we are less able to make choices that reflect our priorities. That’s why it’s so important for us to connect with those priorities in a quiet moment of reflection, before the moment of decision is upon us.

Try writing out a shortlist of your daily priorities each morning, before you read the news, start purging your email inbox, or jump on social media. If you meditate, try doing it after you meditate so that you’re coming at the task with a clear, unharried mind. Keep this shortlist somewhere you will see it throughout the day, to help you remember where you want to be directing your precious attention and time.

This simple act is amazingly powerful at helping you stay connected to yourself and your values. Though urgent tasks might still jump ahead in line on your to-do list, having a thoughtful list of your priorities readily at hand can help you reconnect to what really matters to you, and make acting in alignment with your values much easier.

Don’t let urgency bias prevent you from accomplishing what you most want out of life. Check in with your priorities every day, and discover the incomparable satisfaction of authentic self-connection.

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