Will you do this for me?
When can you get that done?
I know this is last-minute, but…
Oh good, you’re here. Guess what just blew up?
If you are like most managers and leaders, these phrases characterize your days. Many of us feel a slight tightening in the throat when we hear them, because we know we’ve already taken on too much.
Will I do that for you? Ugh. I don’t have time! And you’ll talk me into it anyway.
When can I get it done? How’s never for you? But I can try for next week… or today. Sure.
What blew up this time?
If this describes you, look at the steps below for help. They describe a three-pronged approach:
- Change your systems so you aren’t putting out fires all the time,
- Focus on what’s important, and
Simple, but not easy. Let’s take a look at each one.
Which of these describes you most?
I spend all my time putting out fires
If you have this experience at all, start here. Begin by identifying what steps need to be taken to prevent these fires from starting up in the first place.
Here’s an example to illustrate: When I was managing a cafe, I had multiple problems from the first day I took over: Staff members were failing to show up to work, machines breaking down, we got complaints about the food and even bad coffee. One at a time I identified the firestarters and addressed them. Engage the employees at the level of their passion. Implement maintenance schedules for machines, etc. Every “fix” was more than just a fix for the moment, but a fix for the system:
Trace the fire back to its source and address that with a systemic change..
I’m going in too many different directions and never have any focus.
It’s so human to try to keep all the plates spinning. We play whack-a-mole with our responsibilities, and it’s exhausting. The more we engage in this behavior, the more it grows. In fact, the people around us know that “If you want to get something done, you go to a busy person.” And when you are in the midst of the maelstrom, you will never be able to identify where your energy needs to go. Instead, you have to:
take a step back–get out of the busyness and chaos so you can see the whole picture. This might mean a vacation, but more likely it will require a serious retreat where you have time and structure to take a broad view and see the landscape.
identify your priorities–determine what, out of everything you have been doing, you truly care about and want to put your energy toward. What matters most to you?
close doors. While it is very human to want to keep options open, that is a motivation that is killing your productivity. Closing doors isn’t about burning bridges but saying ‘no.’ When you close doors, you eliminate from your life and work anything that will distract you from achieving your core purpose.
Too much is falling through the cracks.
Many people believe ‘getting organized” is the first step. They might buy a new filing system or hire someone to help them sort their closet or desk or calendar. Instead, I believe organization needs to be tackled after your firefighting days have decreased and you have a sense for your priorities and purpose.
Where do you need to begin?
- Changing your systems so you can do something other than firefighting?
- Identify your priorities so you can focus?
- Organizing your life and work so you won’t miss so much?
These are not easy answers or ‘quick steps.’ To actually do this work requires focus, attention, and work–all of which are difficult to apply when you’re feeling under the gun all of the time!
If you feel that you have too much to do, if you are a leader looking for support and partnership for thinking through and implementing these strategies, it makes a big difference to work with a partner who can keep you on target and moving forward. A coach is one of the best sources for this kind of support. Let me know if you would like to discuss some options.