There just isn’t enough time to do it all. The problems keep coming. We’re doing just enough to keep the plates spinning. When in a constant whirlpool of problems we get sucked into treating the symptoms. There’s no time identify and tackle the underlying cause. We’re doing little other than firefighting
How do Fires Start?
The pattern generally looks something like this:
- We ignore indications that something is wrong until it’s too late
- We treat all problems as if they are urgent
- Once problems increase, we start patching and stop solving
- Once overwhelmed we cut corners, creating future problems
To stretch the analogy, we miss the opportunity to take the pan off the heat and, before we know it, the kitchen is a blazing inferno
Why We End Up Firefighting?
Firefighting is a trait of poor time management that can have many different causes. Saying, “start taking notice of indications that something is wrong before it’s too late” isn’t enough. It’s underlying behaviours that drive us to be firefighters. We might not want to let anyone down or appear to have failed. We may struggle to get started without the pressure of a deadline. We may not know what’s important to us, to our practice, to our creativity. Problem solving is a skill we haven’t had the opportunity to learn
To Stop Firefighting, Stop Lighting Fires
Given the depth and complexity of the underlying behaviours which drive us to be firefighters it can be difficult to solve the problem on our own. However, we can make a start:
- Recognise your inner firefighter. Write ‘STOP FIREFIGHTING’ on a Post-It Note and display it somewhere prominent. Recognising the tendency means you will be more likely to check yourself the next time a problem arises, or a warning sign appears
- Take time to look back over your week and focus on individual instances. Look to identify what was driving you to behaviour in that situation. Creating a journal, and going back over previous journal entries, will help
- Know what is important to you, professionally, creatively, personally (click the ‘Follow’ button to ensure the ‘Goal Setting’ post comes straight to you). This helps prioritise problems by importance, not urgency. Understanding priorities helps you decide which problems can burn themselves out
- Learn problem solving skills. There is a plethora of techniques available on the internet, which generally have the same basic steps: understand the problem (ask yourself lots of why questions), investigate what options you have, implement the best solution, monitor the effect. Poor problem-solving approaches (e.g. firefighting!) spend too little time on step 1, head straight to step 3 and completely ignore steps 2 and 4
Take the First Steps
Regardless of what you want to achieve, or want to avoid, firefighting does not provide a solution. Quite the opposite, it a significant source of stress, loss of creativity, dissatisfaction. Recognise, and control, your inner firefighter, understand your own behaviours, know what is important to you and gain problem solving skills
Want to Know More?
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