Many of us have lulled ourselves into believing that chaos is one of the constants in life: death, taxes and daily plans tossed out the window.

The True Fire Fighters

Ironically, fire fighters (who are dealing with true crises) seem to be fairly calm.

Fire departments seem to live by the ethos “Let chaos reign, then rein in chaos”. With every second counting, they literally drop everything to respond to a fire.

Yet outside of these fires, they do many things to rein in the chaos. They test their equipment, they train and yes, they wash their trucks. When is the last time you saw a fire truck broken down on the side of the road?

How to Survive the Chaos

When a crisis hits, it often requires an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach and we (like the fire fighters) drop everything to respond.

Ironically, the things we do outside of times of crisis are the things that best prepare us:

1) Set clear priorities: It’s okay to have a lot of goals. But the fastest way to get through them is to focus on one at a time. We only slow our progress when we perpetually jump from one thing to the next.

2) Single-task: Multi-tasking is a myth. Focus is far more efficient and leads to better work. Turn your email off. They can survive without you (for a little while anyways).

3) Establish simple systems: We waste time looking for information and generally getting bogged down. Establish simple systems to deal with the little things (email, To Do lists, paperwork, etc.) so you can get on with the doing.

4) Set short-term deadlines: The evil procrastination goblin loves when we don’t have a deadline – at least not one in the short term. Set a deadline and tell someone else. A little bit of pressure is a great way to tighten our backlog.

5) Strive for “good enough”: Better is the enemy of the good. Yes, things can usually be better, but is it worth the price? The U.S. Marine Corps uses the 70% rule: if you have 70% of the information, have done 70% of the analysis and feel 70% confident, then act.

6) Push back: Is it really a crisis? Do you really need to drop everything? Remember that we train people how to work with us.

7) Take a break: We absolutely need recovery time. Outside of crisis times, build in some breathers. Celebrate with you team. Or steal some personal time. Rest up for the next adrenaline rush.

You can handle the inevitable chaos

Fire departments cannot anticipate fires, so they need to prepare themselves to deal with these unpredictable events. You can too with a focus on upfront planning. If we can avoid hanging out on the edge of our capacity, the crisis won’t be able to send us over the edge, and we will finally be able to take 911 off of our speed-dial.

Thanks to this post’s author, Ann Gomez, of Clear Concept, Inc., who has a background in Management Consulting. She spent more than three years with A.T.Kearney, working with clients across many industries all over North America. Ann also spent more than four years in pharmaceuticals and health care research. She holds an MBA from Queen’s University and an Honours Bachelor in Science from McMaster University. As a productivity consultant, Ann enjoys working with several top law firms, Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada, AstraZeneca, Yahoo!, Procter & Gamble, Grand & Toy, and Queen’s School of Business. She has been quoted in the Globe & Mail and has appeared on ROBtv several times.  

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