Marcus Aurelius has the following line in the Meditations:

Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.

The motivation for acting with urgency is simple: life is short, and our decisions should reflect that.

Speed in life is a matter of giving everything it's proper due. Valid requests from others are met quickly, displaying their importance. Speed in a career is a way of taking work seriously.

Consider a one on one with a manager. If an employee gives feedback, a great way for the manager to show that this feedback matters and makes a difference is to act on it as soon as the meeting is over.

Unlike other virtues, urgency isn't intrinsically valuable. It is not valuable in and of itself, but rather because it respects all other values. Plausibly, this is not so for other character traits like beneficence or courage.

Also unlike other virtues, urgency is relatively easy to measure. There are several things you can do:

  • Track how long particular tasks take. Before beginning, make an estimate. Then compare the results.
  • Consider whether you can do things two times as quickly when making plans.
  • Check in and ensure that you're not avoiding requests from others or hard conversations.
  • Use a task management system to ensure that you don't have tasks that you're leaving hanging for days, or worse.

Urgency can quickly slide into vice. Thoughtfulness and urgency may be in tension. The urge to do things quickly can cause relevant considerations to be overlooked. Obsession over ensuring that every judgement is correct ensures that little is done. Yet, some decisions are high stakes and irreversible, deserving full attention and time. Even when decisions are of low importance, there comes a point where quality should not be traded off for speed.

As a practical example of this, in programming it's usually the case that the fastest strategy to launch is suboptimal. The fastest way to ship an app is often not the best way to ship an app. If you take the speediest route, you will hear about suboptimal decisions from users (hopefully) and pay the costs of technical debt later.

Nonetheless, on the margin, it seems to me that many parts of our culture could move in the direction of speed. More of us could be acting with more urgency, after all life will not last ten thousand years.