We spend our time putting out fires!

THE MAIN POINT (449 words—90 seconds reading time)

As we spend our most valuable and non-recoverable resource—time—we not only need to think about how much time we spend but about our priorities for spending time. We tend to spend time on crises before we spend time on making sure we don’t have so many crises. That is, we tend to spend our valuable time on crises and then see if we have time for anything else. That’s why we’re so frustrated at the end of the day when we don’t accomplish what we intend or what we need to accomplish.

The worst part of the dilemma is that most of the crises are of our own making. As we’ve learned in our workshops, we get what we focus on. So, if we focus on the urgent (crises), we’ll be consumed by our crises. We shouldn’t even focus on getting rid of crises because we’ll just get more crises. Therefore, we must focus on something else that will help us when we get what we focus on. That something else must be something that must be present where there are no crises. That something else is PROCESS. That’s what we focus on.

(By the way, I use the word crises for the unexpected events in our day—good or bad—and for the urgent activities we face. I use the word crises because it starts with a “C” as in Cater to Crises, which I’ll contrast with “A” and “B” later in the ABC’s of getting our lives in order.)

Putting aside crises is hard for some people to do. I believe many people and organizations become addicted to crises. Even though they know crises are bad for them, they have to have their crises anyhow. Many people and organizations get their self-worth from handling crises. They won’t admit it, but they look forward to crises so they can make what they believe is their contribution.

Unfortunately, they don’t realize the real contribution is heading off crises. But heading off crises doesn’t bring the attention solving crises does. Averting a crisis is usually done quietly and without fanfare. How many times do we reward people for dealing with crises by working long and hard—often to the detriment of their health and their families? When we reward solving crises, we promote more solving of crises; but, usually at the expense of not working at eliminating future crises.

I believe that the Washington DC culture is heavily influenced by the perceived importance and value of crises. Companies in the Washington DC area are strongly influenced by that culture. Crises aren’t valuable. We should be rewarded for not having crises rather than for having crises. As long as we’re rewarded for subduing a crisis, we’ll look for crises even when we have to make them up.

THE FOLLOW UP (214 words—43 seconds reading time)

Stephen Covey calls heading off crises putting the important in front of the urgent. When describing his third habit of highly effective people, he says, “Put First Things First is the endowment of will power. . . . . a highly disciplined life that focuses heavily on the highly important but not necessarily urgent activities of life. It’s a life of leverage and influence.”

So, we’re learning a couple of lessons about how to take control of our lives. The first is PROCESS and the second is discipline. My wife says we need desire, drive, and discipline to be successful. How many people have plenty of desire and drive, but lack the discipline?

In describing the effect of his first three habits of highly effective people, Covey says, “On the continuum, you go from being driven by crises and having can’t and won’t power to being focused on the important but not necessarily urgent matters of your life and having the willpower to realize them.” The concept of the important before the urgent relates to time management, personal effectiveness, discipline, and willpower—all part of the process for driving out crises.

We’ll talk more about attention to process as the path to reducing crises later. Process is important because process drives out crises and gives us time to build the business. And, effective process takes discipline.