Fires consume my day!

THE MAIN POINT (296 words—59 seconds reading time)

I’ve previously argued that we spend 35-40% of our time dealing with rework and its consequences and 20-30% of our time dealing with the squabbling, rivalries, politicking, and internal conflicts that Stephen Covey talks about. Given the other things we do to ourselves to use up our time and effort (such as late and missed meetings, poor communication, and ill-defined expectations), a very conservative estimate would be that we spend 50% of our time on the crises (surprises/unexpected time demands) we inflict on ourselves. Graphically, that expenditure would look like the “Cater to Crises” slice of the pie in the figure below.
For obvious reasons, I call the model in the figure the ABC model. I argue that a manager (really anyone) spends all of his or her time administering his or her work and management processes (A), building the business (B), or catering to crises (C). How do you spend your time?

Most likely, you want to spend as much time as possible exercising your creativity and using your education and abilities to better serve your customer, add customers and products or services, and learn with your coworkers; that is, building the business.

Since we spend most of our time on crises, we have half of our time or less for the A and B slices of the pie. Since A (administer the processes) is the time you spend on your productive work—your work process—and the time you spend on your management process, if you have a large C (cater to crises), you don’t get much time to do B (build the business). Doing C is no fun. Doing a good job at A is some fun. Doing B is the most fun. We all want to be creative and build our responsibilities so we can see what accomplishments our abilities, education, and experience will support in our professional life.

THE FOLLOW UP (285 words—57 seconds reading time)

Our motivation is simply to reduce the crises of our own making. When we understand the implications of the ABC model more completely, the bottom line will be 1) we shouldn’t look first at B (build the business), 2) we need to first reduce C (cater to crises), and 3) the way we reduce C is to put a lot of effort into A (administer the processes). Now you know why I keep saying the answer to getting our lives in order is PROCESS. The answer is that only after we have A (administer the processes) done well will we reduce C (cater to crises) enough to find the time and effort to do B (build the business).

Here’s what’s wrong with the figure: the slice for C (cater to crises) is too small for the way we do business now—and the slice for B (build the business) is too large. That’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that we really spend only a tiny amount of our effort doing what we want to do most (build the business). The good news is that we have the opportunity to get huge leverage. For every percent we decrease C (cater to crises), which is huge, we potentially gain a percent in B (build the business).

It should be straight-forward to reduce C (cater to crises) from say 60% to 59%. And we get the advantage of increasing B (build the business) from say 5% to 6%—a 20% increase in B.

I think you get the gist. PROCESS is crucial because it’s the only way to reduce crises and thereby build the business. But what are the keys to this PROCESS? More about that later. First, we’ll check out how much time we spend on A, B, and C activities and see if I’m correct.