Workplace crises, or “fires,” are bound to occur from time to time. Frequently, however, these crises are avoidable—they arise because simple tasks were put off until they became no longer easy to address. Be careful not to start your own fire by casually postponing until later what you can handle now. Similarly, don’t allow others to feed the flame by ignoring simple tasks that are important, but not urgent.
Engaging in a routine act of “fire prevention” can go a long way toward reducing the number of crises. Take the following precautions to quell any potential flames.
Clear out your inbox. Cull the number of items in your inbox down to zero. Delete or archive messages as soon as you take the associated actions. Using your inbox as a storage device is the equivalent of stashing oily rags in a closet—pretty soon, the heat will rise, and the flames will roar!
Make friends with your calendar. Review the past week’s itinerary for items that require completion, but have not yet been addressed. Has anything slipped through the cracks? If so, do you need to do them now to prevent them from becoming fires? If not, can you plan when exactly you will do them next week? Do the same for the week to come—is there anything you can begin preparing now? Be aware of how you will need to appropriate your time going forward.
Put it on paper. Is there anything nagging at the back of your mind that you ought to be planning, doing, or monitoring? If so, make a “Next Actions” list on calendar page or in a notebook—anywhere besides your head. Write down each of your ongoing projects, and confirm that you are taking the necessary actions to accomplish the work that needs to be done. Create another list entitled “Waiting For.” Here, write down anything you need to receive from someone else before you are able to continue with your own responsibilities.
Keep your guard up. Once you’ve made your “Next Actions” and “Waiting For” lists, get in the habit of reviewing them frequently. Assess each entry for issues that might be threatening to erupt into flames. Should you schedule an item for action by moving it to your calendar? Think about the big picture, and be proactive and courageous in dealing with your superiors. If there are projects or commitments you should review with your boss to ensure that you are still on track with critical goals and objectives, schedule a meeting now.
Say goodbye to that nagging sense of, “What am I forgetting?” When you are fully up to speed on what’s on your plate, you are in a better position to respond with a clear head and your full attention.
Adapted from Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work, by Russell Bishop, McGraw Hill.
Tame the Flames of Trouble
Tackle unfinished business. Incomplete tasks and projects hold onto a certain amount of your mental energy, attention, and focus. As you complete unfinished work, you generate more energy, which in turn makes it easier to accomplish new tasks on your radar.
Watch your labels. When confronted with a challenging situation, what you tell yourself makes a huge difference. Anything you label as difficult will likely prove to be problematic. Instead, view a challenge as a solution waiting to be found.
Aim for clarity. Don’t assume that every member of your team is on the same page. Before you begin a project, spend some time discussing its purpose. Nail down the team’s expectations, and figure out what the outcome will look like when you reach your goal.