UPDATE – see the yellow box of text at the bottom of this post for an awesome FREE resource to help you master proactivity.
I love firefighters.
What’s not to love? You’ve got the serious hero factor, plus all those cool toys and the truck, baby …
But here’s the thing, couch warriors:
Are not firefighters.
So what the ever-loving holy fig are we doing putting out fires all day long?
- 1 Why Putting Out Fires Is No Way to Run a Business
- 2 Avoiding Fire-Fighting: Getting Proactive and Engaging Your Inner CEO
- 3 Curing a Case of Firefighter-itis When It’s Already Hit
- 4 Bottom Line: Get Proactive to Kill the Fires For Good
- 5 BONUS! Free Resource from the Fabulous Michelle Nickolaisen
Why Putting Out Fires Is No Way to Run a Business
For some reason, I see this most frequently with my solo lawyer peeps.
They get so much crap thrown at them in any given workweek that they’re constantly juggling several different clients and cases at one time. They’ve got to keep so many people happy — or at least, not homicidal — between the judges, the clerks (often scarier than the judges), opposing counsel, and their own staff members …
Throw into the mix the spinning chainsaws of death – little things like running a small biz, handling small biz finances, marketing a small biz – well, it’s a wonder more of them don’t run screaming for the hills, frankly.
And what inevitably ends up happening is that they begin to feel like all they do is put out fires, all day long.
This is not a good thing in the lands of Small-Biz-istan and SolopreneurVille.
A lawyer who’s feeling like that will end up spending more time because she can’t bring herself to spend a few extra minutes getting a handle on things. It’s go-go-go all the time, and since planning doesn’t feel like go-ing, or do-ing, the planning never gets done.
Even when they do manage a few moments at the beginning of the week to strategize and plan out the week’s obligations, by Tuesday that plan will be shot to hell.
Why? Because biz-fire-fighting is like one of those gross-scary viruses that just gets stronger the more you try to struggle with it.
Avoiding Fire-Fighting: Getting Proactive and Engaging Your Inner CEO
If you want to prevent this from happening to you and your business, then here’s what you’ve got to do:
- Make an unbreakable appointment with your inner CEO every single week. Same bat time, same bat channel. Give the bitch (or bastard) a full hour of your time, and make sure your actions are getting the team closer to the CEO’s vision for your biz or endeavor.
- Develop the preview/review habit. Every Monday morning, and every work-day morning, before you do anything else, take 15 minutes to review the upcoming week and day, respectively. At the close of each day, and the close of each work-week, give yourself another 15 to 30 minutes to perform a wrap-up review.
- Chunk your schedule. Give up on the whole “I’m always accessible, all the time” act. It’s killing you, and it’s killing your business. Set two half-hour periods during the day for returning telephone calls, and another two half-hour periods for checking and responding to email. In the meantime, do your work in uninterrupted half-hour or hour-long chunks of similar tasks (i.e., similar to the concept of “contexts” in Getting Things Done).
- Build workable business systems wherever you can. Use software, apps, flowcharts, mindmapping, and scripts to automate whatever repetitive tasks take up your time. Even if work has to be done in an analog fashion, simply outlining the steps to doing the job can point out time-saving shortcuts. Aim to handle or process each piece of information just once, and reduce or eliminate duplicative work.
Curing a Case of Firefighter-itis When It’s Already Hit
If you’re already in the middle of a bout of putting out fires, being reactive instead of proactive, then you’ll need a slightly different strategy to help you overcome the obstacles in your way.
First things first: get a crystal-clear picture of what you’re up against.
Gather your calendar, your files, whatever you use to capture tasks and to-do’s, and turn off the phone for an hour or so.
Then go through each project or client, and figure out what the next step is, when it needs to be completed, and what you need to complete it.
Do this for every item on your list, every client on your roster, every deadline making you sweat, putting them in descending order of consequences for failure. Crap that gets you arrested if undone goes at the top. Crap that makes you homeless goes next. Stuff that will merely make someone roll their eyes can go near the bottom.
I recommend creating a new list of all these pressure-causing deadlines and tasks in a new text file, so you can work with it more easily in the next few steps.
Analysis & Organization
Once you’ve got the list of all impending deadlines and tasks completed, go through the list item-by-item and ask whether it can be renegotiated, rescheduled, delegated, or simply deleted.
Organize your list into sublists now based on your answers. Everything that can be renegotiated goes in one list – these represent calls you’ll have to make or emails you’ll have to send, asking to change the parameters of whatever you said you’d do. Same with items that can be rescheduled.
Things that can be delegated go in a separate list, and further subdivide the list by the name of the person or company to whom it will be delegated.
Deletions? Put them aside for now. You don’t have time to actually delete them from your system, so just keep the list separate for now, and get rid of them later.
Focused, Chunked Work
Now, you’re in a better position to actually do the work. Chunk the tasks that didn’t get assigned to one of the above categories, and create sublists based on those chunks. Example: emails, writing, research, editing — these are all separate tasks, requiring separate skillsets and tools, so each of these would represent one chunk.
Set a timer for thirty minutes, and dive in. Do not come up for air – do not answer the phone – do not look at your email – for thirty minutes.
Why thirty minutes? Because it’s a measly amount of time, compared to the enormity of your list, but it’s enough time to actually get a sense of flow going. You’re more likely to continue working once you hit the thirty-minute mark.
Lather, rinse, repeat as needed. Remember to take breaks every hour or so.
Bottom Line: Get Proactive to Kill the Fires For Good
Yes, it takes time to get your shit straight when you’re in the middle of a biz-fire-fighting spree, and that’s time you will not want to spend. Your inclination will be to keep hustling, keep juggling, keep moving — because that feels like work, and as long as you’re moving and working, nobody can yell at you, right?
Wrong. They can yell. They WILL yell. Sit your ass down and follow this process to get out of that scenario. Then resolve to never let it happen to you again.
One note of warning: It will happen again. It totally will, and we really can’t guarantee it won’t. But you can certainly minimize occurrences, and that’s worth doing.
‘Cause if you’re gonna put out fires all day, you should at least get to ride on the truck and work the siren, y’know?
BONUS! Free Resource from the Fabulous Michelle Nickolaisen
UPDATE: For the next few days you can register for an absolutely free training call from Michelle Nickolaisen of “Let’s Radiate” on this very topic! Join me for this awesome call on July 20th at 4 PM EST/ 1 PM PST.