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All too often, corporate culture perpetuates a cycle of burnout amongst its leaders, which leads to the inevitable consequence of fire fighting. This is when an individual deals with unexpected problems using temporary solutions, instead of spending time and effort to make a strategic plan to deal with the underlying issues behind the issue.

If someone is in fire fighting mode, they feel powerless over what happens to them. They are so busy in the doing they can’t see that the power they want has been with them all the time. They can say no at any point and challenge the situation and the demands being made on them.

So why do people get stuck in a fire fighting mentality?

·      People are afraid to say ‘no’ and are addicted to getting a job done.

·      Solving the underlying problem can be difficult and needs a courageous conversation. This often puts people off attempting to solve it because they are afraid of upsetting someone or the status quo. So instead they seek a more comfortable, temporary solution.

·      People adopt a ‘let’s deal with later’ mentality. So the problem is dealt with quickly and appears to be out of the way.  The issue will, of course, rear its ugly head again because it has not been dealt with properly.

Fire fighting adds to the cycle of burnout because the person taking action never feels on top of their work. They don’t have time to think about problems strategically, and they feel perpetually stressed and tired. When I work with my 1:1 clients I help them take a different approach, which is outcome versus problem. We focus on getting them out of this stressful cycle. Here are some tips.

1.   Take unnecessary meetings out of your diary. Try and aim for 30%. Often you can be on autopilot at work and say yes to everything in a non-mindful way. Eventually, your day is full of back-to-back meetings, so you have no space to manage your week strategically. Everyone else’s agendas and timelines are taking up your life, and you feel you have no choice. I was working with a client recently where they organised 1:1s with a team and booked them in with only 5-minute breaks in between them, and some were back to back! There was no time for lunch or to collect my thoughts, and unbelievably, this can be the norm in many company cultures. You need to be curious to have productive meetings. Ask yourself: Do I have to be there? Is there another way to add value? You can read more about how to deal with the meetings culture in my blog. People mistakenly believe that if there is space, it should be filled. We all need space to think and strategise. Claude Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes.” I love this quote: it reminds us that in all areas of life, we need a certain amount of emptiness to appreciate the complexity and richness of life. It is also vital to have the headspace and time to make strategic decisions at work.

2.   Slow down the yes. Instead of the immediate reply to “can you just do this for me?”, respond with, “let me come back to you” instead. Have some stored responses to slow down the yes. Check you have the energy and the capacity to do what is being asked of you before you answer.

3.   Create clear, long-term goals. Clearly defined future goals will help balance the demand for immediate, current problems and stop the compulsion to fire fight. When we focus on what we want rather than what is wrong, we can make better choices, and the end goal is clear.

4.   Take a break. If you feel yourself getting stressed, go and take a rest – close your eyes, take a deep breath, relax, and take a moment to think. There are some great apps like Headspace, that you can use to do this or get outside in nature and get moving.

5.   Disconnect. Schedule time to disconnect from work and do something you enjoy. Make sure you spend time with your family and friends, exercise or do a hobby you love. If you don’t disconnect, you won’t have time to recharge.

6. Have conversations that count. Take the time to connect and talk to your team to see what the real roadblocks are. Actively listen to what they have to say. Listen to hear and not to respond.  Make sure you make the conversation count by digging into what really matters.

7.   Plan, prioritise, and reflect. Get in the routine of planning and prioritising your tasks at the beginning of each week in order to have clarity about your most important goals. Take time at the end of the week to reflect while you are undistracted. This can help you learn from the approach you have taken and continue to use what is working and adjust what isn’t.

If you feel like you are in fire fighting mode, book a free 15-minute virtual cuppa with me to see if I can help. Email hello@jocowlin.com to arrange a time. 

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