Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Urgency bias and productivity

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Urgency bias and productivity:
What is the impact of urgency bias on productivity and what can be done about it?

Overview[edit | edit source]

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” (Dr J. Roscoe Miller, 1954)

Urgency bias, or the mere urgency effect, refers to an individual's proneness to begin and complete urgent tasks before important tasks (Zhu et al., 2018) which reduces the focus on, and completion of essential tasks in an efficient way, in turn potentially reducing the efficiency and effectiveness of an individuals[grammar?] work – their productivity (Roghanian et al., 2012). To better understand the relationship between these two concepts, and how to overcome adverse effects of urgency bias, it is vital to understand the theoretical and conceptual ideas these concepts are based on.

Focus questions:

  • What is productivity?
  • What is urgency bias?
  • What are potential solutions to overcome urgency bias?

Productivity[edit | edit source]

Productivity is defined in a number of different ways throughout different professions, but most commonly refers to the relationship between an individual or groups[grammar?] input and output (Tangen, 2002), and working highly efficiently and effectively (Roghanian et al., 2012).

Most often, theories of motivation are associated with, and used to investigate how to improve, productivity in different situations, though frequently in occupational settings. One such theory that is often related to productivity is Locke’s goal-setting theory (1968), which includes the idea that setting goals plays a significant role in individuals[grammar?] performance and that more difficult goals lead individuals to perform better (Hom & Murphy, 1985). This theory is suggested to also in part explain increased productivity within a workplace as it often relates to job satisfaction, which in turn increases and is vital for productivity among employees (Wong & Low, 2018). In a more simplified way, more challenging goals motivate individuals to work in a more effective way, increasing personal and group productivity. Given the importance of productivity, motivational theories are often used to seek to improve productivity, whether through happiness or goal setting and achieving.

Urgency bias[edit | edit source]

Mere urgency effect as “a tendency to pursue urgency over importance” (Zhu et al., 2018)[grammar?]. According to this theory, there are a number of variables examined as potential influences that lead individuals to choose to devote oneself to urgent tasks, results[grammar?] finding a link between attention and the extent this bias is presented (Zhu et al., 2018)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. However, it is beneficial to first define the difference between urgent and important tasks, as many may consider them one and the same:

  • Urgent tasks those that must be completed within a limited timeframe, whether it is a new task or one that has been put off. For example, a new email from a co-worker asking for a set of documents.
  • Important tasks include those that produce substantial outcomes, whether completed or not, [grammar?] will determine the direction of this outcome (i.e. positive or negative), most often assisting an individual in progressing towards a goal. For example, a major assessment for a university class due in a week's time[grammar?][confusing example because the assessment is due in a week's time].

In order to test the existence and pervasiveness of the urgency effect, a number of elements must be explored, understanding influences on an individuals[grammar?] decision[vague]. Zhu, Yang & Hsee (2018) outlined several factors that, that [grammar?] even when controlled – i.e. when there was no difference in difficulty, the immediacy of consequences, context, and dependency of the urgent and important task, urgency bias was still present (Zhu et al., 2018)[Provide more detail][explain?]. However, there are two critical variables found to affect the presence and intensity of the urgency bias – attention, and perceived urgency; when attention was shifted from focusing on the limited time to respond to the actual consequences of the task, there was a reduction in the effect of the bias (Zhu et al., 2018)[for example?]. Similarly, Zhang, Hsee & Sussman (2015) found perceived urgency and evaluation mode to also affect the prominence of the bias; when a participant was presented with two loans to pay off, one with an already increasing interest rate, and the other with a rate that will increase, but has not already, they were more likely to pay off the loan with an already increased rate (Zhang et al., 2015). While there is not much research yet conducted investigating the prevalence and effects of urgency bias, a foundation exists to assist in understanding how and why decisions are made to pursue unimportant but urgent tasks before important tasks

Key message:

  • Attention – when focused on time limits (rather than the consequences), and perceived urgency and evaluation mode – when there is already a limit on time to respond (rather than there will be, or potentially will be), both increase the prominence of urgency bias (Zhang et al., 2015; Zhu et al., 2018)[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Effect of urgency bias on productivity[edit | edit source]

There is an apparent conflict between the influences on productivity and the effects of urgency bias. With an increase in productivity and performance when increasingly challenging and important tasks are required to be completed by an individual or group (Hom & Murphy, 1985), it becomes evident that urgency bias is likely to reduce levels of productivity, as it takes focus away from these critical tasks and prioritises other, more seemingly urgent tasks (Zhu et al., 2018). It is most beneficial then to implement methods of increasing satisfaction and well-being in occupations and introduce methods that allow for an increase in completion of more challenging and important tasks, for both the individual and the group (Hom & Murphy, 1985; Zhu et al., 2018). Though[grammar?], it would be beneficial to also increase research and experimentation to further investigate direct influences between these two concepts[vague].

What to do[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Eisenhower's Method (Urgent-Important Matrix)[edit | edit source]

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954)

One approach to increase productivity and attempt to avoid urgency bias is through the use of Eisenhower’s urgent-important matrix (1954) (see Figure 1.). This method suggests creating a list of tasks that needs to be completed and placing each of these items into four separate categories (see Table 1.); those to be completed, those to planned and scheduled, those to be delegated, and those to be avoided (Panayotova et al., 2015):

Examples of urgent and/or important tasks
Figure 1. Eisenhower Matrix[Provide more detail]
  • Complete – These items are both important and urgent, often tasks that have recently arisen, or have been procrastinated, [grammar?] should be completed personally and immediately (Gajewska & Piskrzynska, 2017).
  • Schedule – These items are important but not urgent, these tasks hold a level of importance similar to the prior categorisation, and they should be planned to be attended to in the near future and checked regularly (Gajewska & Piskrzynska, 2017; Panayotova et al., 2015)
  • Delegate – These tasks are urgent but not important, often suggested to delegate these tasks[grammar?], allow someone else to complete them immediately (Gajewska & Piskrzynska, 2017; Panayotova et al., 2015).
  • Avoid – These tasks are neither important nor urgent, [grammar?] they are not necessary to complete and as such, should be avoided and removed from the list of tasks to complete (Gajewska & Piskrzynska, 2017; Panayotova et al., 2015).

Using this method allows for a proper evaluation of each task that needs to be completed, separating the time restraints and outcomes of the tasks, allowing individuals to properly focus their time and energy on tasks that will boost them towards their goal and increasing productivity by completing their work in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Table 1. Table Representation of Types of Tasks Based on Eisenhower's Method

Important Not Important
Urgent Important and urgent
  • Tasks that were left until the last minute
  • Tasks that were not foreseen
Urgent but not important
  • Tasks to help achieve goals
Not Urgent Important but not urgent
  • Tasks, often from other people, preventing completion of goals
Not urgent and not important
  • Distractions

For further detail, see Eisenhower's matrix and time management (Book chapter, 2020)

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 What is Urgency Bias?

Seeing all tasks as urgent and becoming panicked
Completing urgent tasks before important tasks
Seeing tasks urgency increase with their importance
Completing important tasks before urgent tasks

2 Frank is planning his day ahead, [grammar?] according to urgency bias, what task would he be most likely to complete first:

Setting a new wallpaper for his phone
Catching up on a lecture before his class tomorrow
Catching up on a lecture before his class that starts in 2 hours
Completing a final assessment for his university class due at the end of the month

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

While it is beneficial to complete all tasks, whether essential or urgent, or both, it is evident that urgency bias can influence productivity, especially within a workplace. With productivity based on the efficiency and effectiveness of an individual, or groups, workflow, primarily through more challenging tasks (Roghanian et al., 2012), a susceptibility to urgency bias could drastically decrease productivity; with urgency bias reducing the completion of and focus on these types of essential and increasingly challenging tasks (Zhu et al., 2018). With this in mind, it is clear that using a method such as the Eisenhower matrix is extremely helpful in increasing productivity and avoiding distractions. However, with a limited amount of research conducted on urgency bias, it is difficult to fully understand and see its effects on productivity[vague].

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Gajewska, P., & Piskrzynska, K. (2017). Leisure Time Management. Forum Scientiae Oeconomia, 5(1), 58-69.

Hom, H., & Murphy, M. (1985). Low need achievers' performance: The positive impact of a self-determined goal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 11(3), 275-285.

Panayotova, S., Vasic, Z., & Yordanova, M. (2015). Time management – models and techniques for application. Infoteh-Jahorina, 14, 393-396.

Roghanian, P., Rasli, A., & Gheysari, H. (2012). Productivity through effectiveness and efficiency in the banking industry. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 40, 550-556.

Tangen, S. (2002). Understanding the concept of productivity. In Asia Pacific Industrial Engineering and Management Systems Conference (pp. 1-4). Taipei; Asia Pacific Industrial Engineering and Management Systems Conference.

Wong, P., & Low, A. (2018). Improving workplace productivity: Applications of Maslow’s need theory and Locke’s goal-setting. Psychology & Psychological Research International Journal , 3(8), 2-5.

Zhang, S., Hsee, C., & Sussman, A. (2015). An urgency effect in responses to future rate increases. Advances in Consumer Research, 43, 208-212.

Zhu, M., Yang, Y., & Hsee, C. (2018). The mere urgency effect. Journal of Consumer Research, 45, 673-690.

External links[edit | edit source]