Article: "Whose Crisis Is This?"

With three kids eight and under, I have most Disney
videos memorized. I particularly love a scene from
Disney’s movie "Hercules" when Hercules battles the
Hydra. Every time Hercules cut off one Hydra head, three
appeared in its place. He fought faster and harder, but the
monster soon overpowered him. Panicked, his trainer Phil
shouted, “Will you forget the head-slicing thing?” It’s not

Do you ever feel that way at work? You delete one email,
and three more appear. Within moments, torrents of
emails are gushing from your screen. Or you do an
outstanding job on a new project, so you’re given three
more, each with successively tighter deadlines. Unable to
keep up, you let the emails and projects spill over into
your evenings and weekends, and your personal life
begins to suffer. You work faster and harder, but your
work soon overpowers you. “Will you forget the head-
slicing thing?” It’s not working!

Throwing more time at your work isn’t going to save you.
Working faster and harder is a battle you will never win,
because you will always have more things to do than time
to do it. You could work all day, every day, and still
never finish your work. Therefore, the problem isn’t time
shortage; it’s time usage. It doesn’t matter how long you
work; it’s how you work. Indeed, a 12-hour day can be
more unproductive than a six-hour day.

One of the biggest timewasters I see in organizations is
crisis management. Some "fires" are legitimate
emergencies, and some jobs truly operate on a "first in,
first out" basis, reacting to customer demands.

Jen, one of my newsletter subscribers, wrote, “Laura, I feel
like my workday is completely out of control. I have a
Palm Pilot, and a huge list of To-Do’s, but some days I
barely have the time to even glance at them. How can I get
my head above water and get to the point where I’m not
spending every day just fighting the most current fire that
has come up?”

Indeed, many people like Jen are good at planning their
days, creating a to-do list, and outlining your priorities.
When you get to work, everything, including your plan,
blows up in the first ten minutes because others need you
to do “very important” things. By the end of your day,
you’re frustrated by your inability to accomplish anything

I love the saying, “If you kick the person responsible for
your problems, you wouldn’t sit down for a week!” There
is a difference between an emergency and a crisis that
occurs because of something that wasn’t done. If you
delay something long enough, you are contributing to a
future crisis. As time moves on, they cause the next fires
and crises. In other words, not doing things before they
become a crisis will create the next crisis. The first time it
happens, it’s an emergency. The second time, you’re an

After every “fire”:

1. Create a backup plan. How have you responded to
recurring problems in the past? What contingency plans
have you put into place to make sure it doesn’t happen
again? If your computer crashed and you lost all your
data, I would assume that you now have a literal “backup”
plan to ensure this doesn’t happen again. For example, a
reader told me, “The most damaging as far as impacting
my work is “stamping out fires.” Part of my job involves
scheduling other people. When one of these people
cancels, it becomes a crisis, requiring me to place many
telephone calls, send emails, and endure lots of stress!
This never fails to happen when I am up against a project
deadline, or preparing to put on an event in the immediate
future.” This is the type of repeated situation that should
always include a Plan “B,” scheduling a back-up person in
the event that Plan “A” fails. When the same thing is
guaranteed to happen again, put a plan into place that will
help you handle it better.

2. Be proactive. Another reader said, “My problem is
that much of my time is spent on the telephone with my
members who call with questions, trying to put out fires or
directing them to resources.” This comment begs the
question, “What systems have you put in place to
proactively answer the questions people are asking? How
can you help them easily find the information they need
(through your website, newsletter, email updates, etc.).
Sometimes we are so busy putting out the fires, we never
step back and evaluate what’s lighting the flame. How can
you keep it from happening again?

3. Look in the mirror. What part did you play in
creating this fire? To reduce time spent on crisis
management, spend time doing long-term, proactive,
important activities, rather than always responding to the
urgent. Don’t facilitate crisis at work by procrastinating on
tasks until they become urgent. Spending 30 minutes
more per day working on items that are high in
importance but low in urgency would significantly reduce
the amount of time you end up responding to crisis. Ask
yourself: what ideas, projects, and programs—if
implemented now or in the near future—would
significantly impact the profitability or productivity of
your staff or your organization?

When a true crisis cannot be avoided because of changing
priorities, unrealistic deadlines, or mistakes:

· Take a deep breath, ask yourself what needs to be
done, and handle it in an orderly fashion. Stay calm and
think clearly.
· How major is the crisis? Step back and look at the
whole picture. You may have to accept partial delivery
from your subordinates or other departments. Do you
have enough to get past the critical point?
· Offer incentives. Get someone you know who will
put forth additional effort. Offer a reward for on-time
completion. Narrow the scope of the project if you must
or eliminate some non-essential things.
· Ask yourself, “Whose crisis is this, anyway?” Seek
alternative sources or switch suppliers or players if
someone isn’t delivering on promises. Can you delegate
the crisis to someone else? Don’t be afraid to ask for help
if needed. Sometimes you have to appeal to a higher
authority for guidance.

(c) Copyright 2003 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights

Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in
your organization or association newsletter, provided the
following credit line is present:

"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity PRO,"(r)
helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and
more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars
on time management, information overload, and personal
productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or
[email protected]"