Lead Artfully

What to do when everything becomes urgent?

June 15, 2021
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what to do when everything becomes urgent

When work becomes constant firefighting

There are things we can do to protect our teams against urgencies.  The behaviours we model and the culture we encourage has a lot to play in this.  Who does not like the thrill of fixing a new problem, or offering up some intoxicatingly innovative new solution to a client or our bosses?  That hit of dopamine we all get from putting out fires.  How many of us have called the team in to reward some heroic act of last-minute action to resolve a problem?  Thanked for dragging that proverbial cat back safely from the flames?  These behaviours do nothing but celebrate and reinforce urgent, selfless, reactive actions.  Sure, urgencies happen in every job.  But what to do when everything becomes urgent?

Naturally, we should recognise it when our teams go above and beyond.  But when we only reward responses to urgent tasks, it should be no surprise that everything becomes urgent. That is where our focus is.  As leader you have a choice to lay off the self-induced dopamine hits.


When the flames of urgency remain uncontrolled

So, when this occurs, we naturally see less focus on planned and proactive work that ultimately would make the team or company function better.  When everything becomes urgent, and firefighting becomes the norm, your credibility suffers.   Your team grows weary of the constant fire fights.  If you do not learn from this, you may soon find yourself needing to look for a new role.  And what well run organisation needs a firefighter, especially one who fans or lights fires?  Subsequently, you would likely find yourself in another firefighter role, in an organisation where everything is urgent.  This situation is both stressful, and extremely career limiting.


So, what to do when everything becomes urgent?

  1. Assign reasonable timeframes and due dates on activities.
  2. Start rewarding behaviours that lead to fire protection, rather than just firefighting.
  3. Prioritise planned work, and factor in time for surprises. Well-run projects always include something for contingencies.
  4. Encourage innovative ideas but be careful not to create new urgencies. New ideas still need to follow the first three steps.
  5. Recognise that you as leader may be the source of some urgencies, when in fact it is your role to help your team identify and work on urgent, and proactive efforts. Not create fires!