URGENT : Why you should {almost} never put URGENT in your message


Just a little note about something that rubs me up the wrong way.

I quite often get messages with the word URGENT in the subject or text. I scan through the content, and if it doesn’t seem truly urgent to me, I put it at the bottom of my list of things to do. Why?

You are not the central character in my life

When someone is communicating with me, they are thinking it’s a 1-to-1 interaction. What they forget is that I am working on many different things. As a result, for me it is a 1-to-many relationship.

Just because something is urgent to you, it doesn’t mean it takes priority over the other work I am doing. You don’t know what I’m doing, so you can’t possibly know how your issue sits in my list of priorities. Assuming your needs are more important than the needs of others is really rude.

This is even more annoying when it comes from someone outside of work. If you are not paying me, you have no business sending me an “urgent” request.

Your bad planning is not my emergency

In many cases these “urgent” issues could have been solved well in advance. It’s bad planning that has caused this issue, so I don’t see why it should have a negative impact on my life.

Sometimes there are genuine reasons for something to be classed as an emergency, like P1 incidents, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

There are some people that bounce from one emergency to the next. It soon becomes obvious that these people are just really bad at planning, and as a result are constantly in the weeds, and asking you to help drag them out.

Personal heroics don’t help the company long term

Occasionally you have to dig deep to get through a real emergency, but for the constant stream of self-inflicted emergencies, the only solution is to let things fail so people can see the root cause.

Personal heroics may feel good to you in the short term, but in the long term it is bad for your company and for you. The company needs to know what is failing and do something about it. Relying on a small number of people to pull them out of the weeds is not a long term strategy. Sooner or later this will stop working because the “heroes” will get annoyed and leave, or quiet quit.

What does urgent even mean to you?

I once got a message late on a Friday about an “urgent” issue. I felt sorry for the person in question, so I cancelled my plans, worked on the issue and sent them back the solution. I then got a reply saying, “Great, I’ll have a look at it on Monday”. Needless to say I lost my shit. That clearly was not an urgent issue.

I’m not alone

Over the years I’ve had this conversation many times, and I know I’m not the only person that gets annoyed by messages marked as urgent. I also know I’m not the only person that puts them to the bottom on my to-do list if they are not truly urgent.


As you can see, unnecessarily marking things as urgent is a bad idea, and likely to result in a longer resolution time, so next time you consider adding that little word into your message, just don’t!



PS. Rant over…

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

5 thoughts on “URGENT : Why you should {almost} never put URGENT in your message”

  1. Would have loved to see you showing exceptions from this rule – just to make the post a bit mor colorful, and to make it look less religious.

    A system that failed might very well be declared your urgent priority – even though the outage might have been prevented.

    And if I would find a security flaw in one of your public interfaces, I would use the U word as well.

    Maybe the conclusion is: I would use URGENT if I think it’s urgent for you. If you delay such messages by reflex, people may stop doing this for you.

  2. Joys of a global company…

    Them: “Can I call you now to discuss”
    Me: “Its 7:00pm and I’m about to eat dinner with my family. Call me tomorrow morning”
    Them: “I can’t do that, that is outside my work hours”

    and yet….they still don’t see it 🙂

  3. Sometimes the “urgent” message includes a CC to the line manager to make it look like “super urgent”.

  4. Martin: Well, the title includes {almost} and I do say this,

    “Sometimes there are genuine reasons for something to be classed as an emergency, like P1 incidents, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”

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