3 Strategies to Escape the Urgent Response Box

Kimberly Sheldahl
9 min readMar 8, 2022


Have you ever found yourself in the urgent response box? Sure you have. Maybe you call it something different, but we’ve all been there and many of us spend way too much time there.

What’s the urgent response box? It’s a place that traps you in four corners. It’s the place that keeps you from doing important work, because it captivates you, but not in a good way. That’s the urgent response box.

You got in. Now, how do you get out?

Strategically and with intent.

AIM, IMAGINE, MAXIMIZE — Photo: Adobe photostock

Let’s face it, sometimes you must respond urgently. Things arise and require our immediate attention, your boss says get this done and you do your best to achieve the objective. Those sorts of things are exceptions.

If you routinely find yourself responding to others when situations aren’t truly urgent, but accepting others’ sense of urgency as your own, how will you ever savor time? Why savor time? Because you need it for important work and focused effort. You may need it for rest and reprieve, but nonetheless, you need it for yourself and when time becomes yours, you can do with it what you please.

In either case, in order to save time for your projects and goals or for a day to call your own, you’ll need to get out of that urgent response box.

3 Strategies to Avoid the 4 Corners of Fake Urgency:

1. AIM

Aim means to point or direct with the intention of achieving. This is exactly what needs to occur day in and day out; each day that you make a choice about where you’ll put your effort and energy.

AIM — Know what you want, & make time for it. Photo — Adobe photostock

How do you guide your effort and energy?

No matter what you do, whether you work for yourself or another, avoid starting each day with a to-do list. A to-do list is almost as bad as starting each day without a plan and allowing the day to dictate your actions.

If meetings, emails and your to-do lists define your days then your days become operational based on those “to-do’s”, but, frankly they lack strategy. You may check a few things off the list and find yourself adding another 10 or 15.

If you live by to-do lists, it’s likely you respond to everyone else’s demands before your own. With good intentions leading your day, you adopt their sense of urgency as your own, but, do you pause to ask yourself if the situation is actually urgent? Does the situation require time in “your” urgent response box?

Always pause to ask yourself this question. When you aim at a target, the purpose is to nail the bullseye. The goal is to hit the target. The bullseye is the known target, clearly visible, front and center. The goal isn’t to miss the target. You aren’t trying to hit somewhere on the board. You aim for the center. You aim for the bullseye.

Your energy and effort should be focused on 1 thing too, your bullseye, your target, your main goal. That means that you start your day by taking control of what you want to get done. You target a list and narrow down that list to a daily Big 3. The Big 3 supports your efforts to fulfill a goal that is important to you. In order to get to that goal and nail the bullseye, you’ll need to be less captivated by the urgent response box and more captivated by focused time. Blocking time on your calendar and aiming your efforts towards clear objectives and tasks that serve your goal will help you hit your target.

2. Imagine

IMAGINE — How to get out of the box! Adobe photostock

When circumstances out of your control put you in the urgent response box, use energy to fuel imagination. You may ask, why in the world would you waste time imagining when you’re in an urgent situation. Because I want you to imagine yourself out of that box. Punctuate the situation with a pause. Give yourself room to think about your best response or series of responses that will get you out of that box.

Punctuating the situation with a pause and asking self-reflective questions will help you navigate through to a solution:

  1. Can I make a decision about this urgent situation now?
  2. Can I start to build a strategy in the midst of this urgent situation?
  3. Can I build structure, a system or process, and implement it to save time in the future?
  4. What is this urgent situation teaching me about improving something? Eliminating something?

It’s always a good practice to use your imagination to get your solution centers rolling in the right direction.

Personal Example:

I’ll share a personal example of something I went through last week and I’m still navigating through now. My experience allowed me to use the imagination process on myself and it later inspired me to write this blog.

I’m in the midst of creating a course and as with many courses I’m using videos and graphics to enhance its delivery. As timing would have it, my computer’s hard drive decided it was overloaded. Of note, it was the second time in the last few weeks, so it wasn’t as if it had not already warned me.

I felt a sense of urgency. I had not scheduled a major computer issue as part of my Big 3. This snafu was going to impede my progress and I was not going to achieve my goals.

Instead of writing my final module and finishing videos, I spent hours trying to free up disc space. I unsynced files, cleaned up my downloads, and removed programs. You name it, I tried it, and after working 2 to 3 hours the disc space was still too full.

I was stalled. I couldn’t proceed with videos. My spirit was bummed. The project and essentially most of my other work stopped dead in its tracks. My goals would not be met and until I made a decision I would not be able to pick up where I had left off.

What did I do? Punctuated the situation with a pause.

Punctuate with a Pause. Pause, and ask yourself questions.— Adobe photostock

Yes, in part, I had to pause, nothing was working right, but that’s not the kind of pause I’m talking about. I’m talking about a mental pause. A reflective pause, a time to ask myself a few key questions that took me down a path called solution.

Can I make a decision in this urgent situation now?

My answer was yes. Well, almost a yes. I had one of two choices. My activity of freeing up disc space was not getting the outcome I wanted, so I stopped the efforts. I enlisted some help from my husband; asked for a second opinion. We both researched new computers and back- up external hard drives.

Solution: That evening, I purchased both.

I’m typing on my new computer today and the new fast processing hard disc will help me salvage my heavy ladened computer as I have time, but the lesson did not stop there.

The lesson was not simply a lesson of getting back up and running; quickly getting more RAM, memory, processing speed, stellar video cards, etc. I needed to build a strategy to prevent this sort of urgent response box situation in the future. Granted, I will not have a full hard drive problem everyday, but it’s a real pain and an expensive one to encounter. So, it’s worth spending some time in the “Build a Strategy Box”, which I call Maximize.

3. Maximize

MAXIMIZE — Learn from your experience and build a strategy to avoid the box! Photo — Adobe photostock

The third strategy is to maximize what you’ve learned. If you find yourself in the urgent response box, then learn from it, and learning from something means you put what you’ve learned into action.

Maybe your urgent response box is full of emails or meetings. I don’t know what’s got you running the four corners, but, I do know you probably need to spend some time figuring out how to maximize your way out of that box.

Ask a few key questions about how you might build a strategy around the situation and then put something into place. You may not immediately develop a perfect solution, but you can always tweak whatever you start.

Using the punctuate with a pause technique helps your brain stay solution focused and less reactive to the sense of urgency. Yes, you’ll still respond to the situation, but, in the back of your mind, your wheels will be turning. Turning in the direction of a solution out of that box!

Ask yourself:

How can I maximize this situation?

Turn it upside down and into something positive?

What can I learn?

What can I avoid or prevent in the future?

How can I be more strategic?

Think about a solution, even a temporary solution. Put something into place and monitor the progress. Evaluating progress is a great way to determine if your strategy is working or not. Consider the cost of not pausing. Think about the amount of time leakage happening each day. What could you do with that precious time?

The urgent box that dictates how you spend your time instead of the other way around. Yes, you have necessary meetings, emails and follow ups. We all do, but your entire existence should not be in a reactive state. That’s exhausting and the four corners of that box can get pretty boring after a while. There’s an entire world to see outside of that box!

If you want to see that world, get out of that box, tap into your potential, aim high, and set a few goals.

Knowing what you want gives you the motivation to set aside the time to work on your aim that helps you win the game. It doesn’t matter what you’re shooting for, it only matters that you start the practice of using time to your advantage outside of that box.

When you run into the urgent response box, don’t shoot it. Learn from it. What lesson can the things that pop up unexpectedly teach you? What lessons can your day to day sense of urgencies teach you? How can you better manage the box?

Lastly aim and target your goal, that bullseye, that’s most important to you. When you imagine how to spend less time in that urgent response box, you are winning, but when you maximize the strategy around your responses in that box, you soar.

How can you take something you learned from an urgent response situation and make a future situation better?

Remember a plan is only as good as the one that is implemented and studied.

May your days in the urgent response box be limited and your time on the field of your targeted goals be plentiful.

Ready, set, AIM!

READY, SET, AIM — Adobe photostock

Kimberly Sheldahl is a Practical Priorities™ coach and Full Focus Planner, Certified Pro. She is Certified in Talent Optimization (Predictive Index) and in the science of Conation (the innate way people solve problems -Kolbe™) She enjoys helping others get focused on their goals and will soon launch her mini course, “Ditch Competing Priorities for Completed Priorities.”

If you are interested in learning more about saving time and energy so you can focus on your priorities, follow Kimberly here on Medium and she’ll let you know when Module 1 is available!

You can follow Kim on Facebook @ The Practical Prioritizer and on Linked In where she writes her Newsletter, Practical Priorities.



Kimberly Sheldahl

Chief Priority Strategist |Practical Priorities™ | Certified, Predictive Index ™ & Kolbe™ | Full Focus Planner Certified Pro™|Health Coach