If you were to analyze what firemen do during the course of the year, what percentage of their time do you suppose would be devoted to actually fighting fires? Would you believe me if I told you that it’s actually only 2% of their time?
So what do they do with all their time? True, a good deal of their time is spent sitting around the fire station, but that’s necessary so that they can be available in the event of an emergency. The rest of their time is spent in fire prevention. I found a fireman’s job description on the web. Here are some of their typical responsibilities:
- Cleaning, preparing and testing hoses, fire trucks and other equipment
- Testing water flow on fire hydrants
- Determining what caused fires that couldn’t be prevented
- Holding fire prevention workshops
- Inspecting buildings, sprinkler systems and extinguishers
- Speaking to children about fire prevention
- Participating in fire drills
- Attending training classes in fire fighting, first-aid, and related subjects
Spending all that time on prevention helps reduce the number of fires they are called to put out. Plus, lives and property are saved. No matter how much time or money they have to invest in fire prevention, it has to be cheaper than the cost of the fire fighting and destruction that occurs when fires aren’t prevented.
Many of us spend a greater percentage of our time and efforts putting out fires than the typical fireman. Could it be that many of the fires that erupt in our schedules are a result of poor fire prevention? Maybe we are not spending enough time in planning and preparation. Maybe we’ve allowed key relationships to suffer from lack of attention. Maybe we’re so tired from fighting those fires that we don’t feel we have anything left to invest in learning how to prevent them. Maybe we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that we will always have to spend most of our time fighting fires.
The truth is that most of our fires are preventable. But like the firemen, we have to get ahead of them. We have to learn the most common sources of our fires and put plans in place to prevent them. We have to educate ourselves about how much the fires are costing us in emotional and physical stress, missed opportunities, unfulfilled commitments and quality. It’s time to stop playing productivity pyromania. As Benjamin Franklin (the founder of the first volunteer fire department, inventor of the lighting rod and fire insurance) once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Filed under Challenges, creativity, Decision Making, delayed gratification, learned helplessness, performance, planning, Preparation, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Problem Solving, Productivity, Sharpening the Saw
Whenever you move up to a new level of leadership, you will need to make adjustments. The change you go through is similar to a skill used in sailing. It’s typically not possible to sail directly to your goal in a straight line. You have to sail in the direction the wind pushes you and change directions at strategic moments to move closer and closer to your final destination. In effect, you surrender the wind that was carrying you in one direction and exchange it for a new wind that will carry you in a different one. You end up making a zig-zag pattern across the body of water. The skill is called “tacking,” and it requires a keen eye and knowledge of wind and water patterns.
Likewise in your career, it won’t be possible for you to reach your ultimate goal without making some strategic tacks. But instead of exchanging one wind for another, you’ll be exchanging skills. Old skills that made you effective in your previous role have to be surrendered for new, more effective skills. Even though your old skills might carry you for awhile and help you to experience success, they will eventually carry you away from your ultimate goal.
The skills that you learned as an individual producer won’t get you very far when you start to manage others. Those are the skills of the expert. You need new skills – skills for leading people. The old skills will only serve to make you a “micro-manager” and a “control freak” as you attempt to stay personally invested in everything your people do.
Then, as you move from leading individual producers to leading leaders, the winds change again. Now you need a skill set that includes the ability to grow your leaders, to help them move away from being the expert. You need the strategic focus to give your leaders a common vision behind which they can rally their teams.
And as you move from leading leaders to leading organizations, the winds change once more. Your will need to focus less on getting things done through others as your leaders become more and more competent. Instead, you will need to develop a global view of your organization that has a clear perspective on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
As you progress through your career, you will find that the wind changes direction many times. Each time, you will be challenged to do less of what you are good at and do more of what is out of your comfort zone. Along the way, you are likely to pass many who aren’t going anywhere in their careers due to their inability to recognize when to tack. They mistakenly thought that their old skills would work in their new roles. They tried to continue toward their goal without being willing to change. Don’t follow their example, or you might find your career dead in the water.
In Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix, Quadrant 3 (Q3) describes tasks that are urgent but unimportant. It’s the quadrant of “Other Peoples’ Priorities.” The tasks that fit into this quadrant are important to someone, but they don’t have to be important to us.
It may seem crazy that we would spend any time working on things that are unimportant, but we often confuse urgency with importance. When a phone rings, we feel we have to pick it up. When there’s a knock on the door, we feel we have to answer it. When someone drops by, we feel like we have to stop what we’re doing to talk to them.
But what if we could make it so that they rarely dropped by anymore? We can…by getting rid of our Q3 magnets: the things that attract and invite the interruptions in the first place. Try these strategies:
- Get rid of the candy dish on your desk. It’s an invitation to stop by for a sugar fix, and they will feel obligated to stop and talk if they are going to take your candy.
- Remove chairs from around your work space. A standing interruption won’t last nearly as long as a sitting one will, and it may not happen at all.
- Stay busy. If someone peaks in and sees you staring into space, he/she won’t feel bad interrupting you.
- Take home the conversation piece. If you have something near your desk that invites questions or discussion, take it away.
- Relocate out of high-traffic areas. If your desk is on the way to the restroom or the breakroom, you can be sure that a percentage of the people going that way will drop in to chat.
- Get out of the line of sight. If people can’t see if you are at your desk when they pass by, they are less likely to stop in.
- Put your inbox as far away from you as you can. Make it easy for people to drop things in your inbox without having to engage you.
- Move popular resources elsewhere. If people have to come to you (or near you) for files, supplies or other materials, you’re inviting interruptions.
- Kill the grapevine. It may be that people are frequently interrupting you because you’ve got the best gossip. It may be painful, but if you stop passing along information, people will stop coming to you.
- Close the “open door.” The open door policy is widely misunderstood. It’s was originally intended to allow an outlet for employees who needed to air issues or unload burdens – not for unproductive interruptions. Close your door (if you have one) when you need to concentrate, and let everyone know that they can come by and see you during a particular hour of the day. Schedule your “interruption time.”
A word of caution:
These strategies are not meant to completely eliminate time that you use to interact with your coworkers. Building relationships is important, even when it’s not urgent. It’s a Q2 activity that requires a time investment but pays off in the long run. Be careful that as you eliminate your Q3 magnets, you don’t send the wrong message to those you need to be building relationships with.
Filed under Challenges, communication, fatigue, focus, habits, importance, Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity, Relationships
A colleague once asked Albert Einstein for his telephone number and was surprised to see Einstein reach for the phone directory. “You don’t remember your own number?” the man asked. To which Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?”
Einstein may owe some of his genius to his ability to prioritize. While he certainly had the capacity to memorize large amounts of trivia, he knew that this wasn’t the best use of his talents. He reserved his brain power for solving complex problems and used other resources to help him with the less complex.
I’ve found that great managers do the same with their time. While they are certainly capable of making copies, shuffling paper or solving routine problems, they recognize these tasks for the traps that they are. Less-discriminating managers become entangled in a web of administrivia and find that they have no time left to work on more important priorities. Often in an attempt to appear like a “team player” to their direct reports, these managers waste their hard-earned experience, knowledge and training on tasks that could be handled more effectively (and less expensively) at a lower level.
Don’t sell what you’ve worked so hard to gain so cheaply. The most effective are not always the most popular, but they spend their time like they spend their money – where it will bring them the greatest return on their investment.