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How To Escape The Tyranny Of Urgency And The Stress Of Daily Firefighting – Part 1

As a business growth coach, Steve frequently heard business owners and their leadership team express: the frustration that there are “not enough hours in the day”; that they are spending too much of their time “putting out fires”; and that their plan for the day was blown off course the moment they entered their office. He had also heard the sentiment expressed by many of them that they were working 60+ hours a week just to keep things going and had little or no time to think about growing and building the value of their company!

Steve knew that you could seldom tackle these frustrations without addressing the broader issue of people and processes.  But he also knew there were ways to help leaders become more productive and free up their time for the more important activities they need to do, such as setting direction, planning, communicating, organising, and the business growth activities critical to the survival of the business. Things that would make a real difference to the results of the company.

He recalled the time he had been engaged to coach a team of leaders on how to take charge of their day and refocus their attention on  these “difference-making” activities. As he began to think of this time, his blueprint for improving their productivity came flooding back.

As he often did, he started by asking each leader to review and identify how they were spending their time and where they were distracted.

In all cases, this review revealed that each leader had allowed themselves to become a “super-hero” (often unconsciously). They had allowed themselves to be drawn into the urgent whirlwind of day-to-day activities. These activities were time-consuming but less threatening to perform than the more challenging aspects of the leadership and growth tasks associated with their role. These activities made them feel good but put off the more important and productive activities that drive accomplishments and results.

With some thoughtful reflection, the Team acknowledged that although they might feel productive and energised spending time in the daily whirlwind, too much time there left them little or no time for growth and kept their stress levels high. After some more discussion, it was agreed that there was a need to be able to respond to the urgency of unforeseen events. On the other hand, they also agreed that there was a need to be aware of how much time they spend in the whirlwind and exercise some self-discipline to eliminate, do less of, or delegate a number of these urgent tasks to someone else. Doing this would allow what is important and productive to drive their day.

As usually happens at this point, a few of the team members expressed the view that they had tried delegating before. They voiced the opinion that it took more time, caused more frustration, and slowed everything down – so “it doesn’t work, and it’s better to do it myself”. Steve agreed that letting go and delegating can be scary. But stressed to gain back time and achieve the company vision and objectives, they must let go and break the “I knew I should have just handled it myself” cycle. He emphasised that the key to de

legation was doing it in the right way. This meant establishing a process for delegation. This process should define who the task is to be delegated to, what success looks like and agree when it is to be finished by. Once done the leader should “let go” but follow up on how it is going. Then show appreciation when the task was completed.

He made one other important point. The whirlwind of urgent tasks tends to be more tactical in nature and deadline-based. They have often become urgent through procrastination or because a leader hasn’t paid sufficient attention to planning, communicating, and organising. So, it was stressed that more thought and effort needs to be put into these activities.

Steve smiled as he remembered how the Team’s energy went up a notch as they realised they had some concrete actions to take that would free up their time from the tyranny of the urgent and help them become more productive.

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