There just isn’t enough time to do it all. The problems keep coming. We’re doing just enough to keep the plates spinning. Meanwhile, we’re in a constant whirlpool of problems. We get sucked into treating the symptoms. Moreover, there’s no time identify and tackle the underlying cause. At this point, we’re doing little other than firefighting
How do Fires Start?
The pattern often looks something like this:
- Indications that something is wrong are ignored, until it’s too late
- All problems are treated as urgent
- As problems rise, the tendency to start patching and stop solving comes in
- Once overwhelmed corners are cut, future problems are created
In other words, we miss the opportunity to take the pan off the heat. Before we know it, the kitchen is a blazing inferno
Why We End Up Firefighting?
It can have many different causes. However, it’s often underlying behaviours that make us firefighters. We might not want to let anyone down or appear to have failed. On the other hand, we may struggle to get started without the pressure of a deadline. Similarity, we may not know what’s important to us, to our practice, to our creativity. Maybe problem solving is a skill we haven’t had the opportunity to fully learn
To Stop Firefighting, Stop Lighting Fires
It can be difficult to solve the problems alone. This is due to the depth and complexity of the underlying behaviours that make us firefighters . However, we can make a start:
- Recognise your inner firefighter. Write ‘STOP FIREFIGHTING’ on a Post-It Note and put it somewhere prominent. By recognising the tendency means you’ll be more likely to check yourself the next time a problem arises. Or a warning sign appears
- Look back over your week and focus on individual instances. For instance, identify what was driving your behaviour in that situation. Writing a journal, and going back over previous journal entries, will help
- Know what is important to you. For example, professionally, creatively, personally. 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. They generally include 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. Firefights often spend too little time on step 1, head straight to step 3 and completely ignore steps 2 and 4
Take the First Steps
Firefighting never provides a lasting solution. Quite the opposite. It’s a significant source of stress, loss of creativity, dissatisfaction. Therefore, recognise, and control, your inner firefighter. To achieve this: understand your own behaviours, know what is important to you and build problem solving skills
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