Calling All Firefighters

All of us know the feeling of getting to work and “firefighting” for the next 8 hours. Winding down at the end of those days, as the cortisol begins to fall off, we drive home ready to fight another day.

We all love to feel important, and some of us even enjoy feeling like we saved the day! The euphoric high of accomplishing the impossible or getting the job done at the eleventh hour can be both addictive and fulfilling — or completely exhausting!

But can we have a “last 10% of truth” moment? (brace yourself)

Most “firefighting” is not the result of being in a fast-paced industry or quickly-growing business. It’s the result of mediocre planning, poor leadership, and a complete lack of time margin during the day.


Before we get any further, please don’t hear me saying there should never be projects that are both urgent and important. There should. But they should be way more infrequent than they are.

When we allow our day to be kicked around from one emergency to the next, we’re likely accomplishing nothing of longterm significance.

And besides… most of the time something has become urgent, we’ve already failed.

We’ve failed, because we aren’t going to have a chance to gather critical data or research. We’ve failed, because be aren’t going to have time to have the right conversations. We’ve failed, because we’ve not positioned ourselves to make the best decision possible.

That’s bad business, and leaders who want to win need to own their part and fix it. In order to do that, I want to challenge you to declare war on firefighting. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. I’m serious… straight up declare WAR against.

Here are 3 ideas to help you get started…

First »

You have to create a way to separate the fires from what’s urgent/important and non-urgent/important. Most fires are not as important as we like to pretend they are.

For me, that’s where methodologies like Rock Habits come into play. They show us what’s most important, and they give us filters to run fires to through to reveal them for what they are. Most fires aren’t fires. Some idiot just pulled the fire alarm, and it’s distracting us from what’s important. Shut off the alarm, put your headphones back in, and get back to your important work.

Next »

When a fire breaks out, skip the pity party and the blame game. Start by saying, “This is my fault,” and ask yourself difficult questions like:

  • “What should I have seen that I missed?”
  • “How can I ensure this doesn’t happen again?”
  • “Who should I apologize to?”

Lastly »

Time block your week. By budgeting every minute before the week begins, you will ensure that you create time in your schedule to accomplish what’s most important (whether it’s urgent or not). And then, when a fire breaks out, you can very quickly look at your calendar and communicate what this fire is going to cost the business to engage.

To close, I often hear people who fight fires all day say something like, “I love these suggestions, but I don’t have time to do any of this because of the fires.”

If that’s you, I will leave you with a most honest sentiment: You must gain control your time, or the lack of it will forever control you.

Fires are tyrants, and I refuse to be controlled by them. I hope you will, too.