Do your days feel mostly like a constant fire drill? Far too many in leadership roles find themselves moving from crisis to crisis, expending all their energies dealing with the next urgent issue. Worse than this, some leaders actually seem to find this type of environment preferable. They have found their ‘niche’ in rapid-fire problem solving, and almost create a culture where this is the norm. The result, however, is typically chaos and turnover.
Where chaos reigns, there is never time for anything but the most urgent matters. And the consequences upon an organization that constantly operates in crisis mode is substantial. Higher rates of employee turnover, low levels of engagement and job satisfaction, lost productivity due to illness, and constant stress plague such institutions that allow everything to become the highest priority and put no filters on their projects and workload. Many of these urgent matters are the result of poor planning. But who has time to plan when you are constantly running for water to douse the flames of the latest fire.
The antidote, in my experience, is to make time for important, non-urgent things. Many will recognize this as one of the principles recommended by Stephen Covey in his classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. However, as someone who read that book ages ago, I will confess that the value and importance of this principle did not immediately impress me as important as I think it is.
Non-urgent things are a helpful tool to a happier and healthier career.
What kind of non-urgent things are we talking about?
- Walking the aisles and talking to your staff or your customers
- Putting a system in place to recognize people on their work anniversaries
- Tracking metrics that may not be needed today, but help provide a long-term story about what is happening with your business and where it is going
- Reading an article on your market or profession
- Setting up a meeting with a colleague…just to “catch up.”
- Learning a new skill that may help you down the road
- Sending a Get Well card to a sick employee or a Congratulations card to a new mom
One little tip I have learned over the years, which may be helpful to some, is this: Put a fire out once. If you happen to work in a place where chaos is the norm and failure to plan is the status quo, you likely are getting many emails and calls and texts to quickly provide solutions to problems or urgently gather information. If you must do it urgently, by all means, only do it once. Ensure that while you deal with the issue that is before you, that you do so in such a way that it is less likely to catch you off guard again. If you do this consistently, over time, you will find your work to be going much more smoothly than most of those around you. And if they ask you why…tell them about non-urgent things.