“Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20
Unfortunately, wildfires are very common and we have all seen images on the television of wildfires which are raging out of control. You may even know someone who has been affected by a wildfire. According to the Canadian Red Cross, there are about 8000 wildfires every year. They can devastate forests, communities and put people’s lives at risk. They often start very small and can sometimes be unnoticed. However, they are able to spread very quickly. Often it is some kind of spark which starts them. It is important to recognize what could potentially spark a fire and then manage these risks.
The expression “putting out fires” is often referred to in the workplace as well. Can you think of days when you seem to go from one mini-catastrophe to another? Perhaps it is something which has been “smoldering” for a while and then something sparks it into a fire needing to now be put out. Or, you may not have noticed that something has been “brewing” amongst people you work with. All seems fine on the surface, but then something happens causing an explosion of feelings. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “putting out fires” as “spending time on problems that need to be dealt with quickly, instead of working in a calm, planned way.” As per forest fires, there are problems at work which could be perhaps minimized or even avoided, by knowing what is triggering them and putting a plan in place to minimize these risks.
Do you find yourself regularly putting out fires at work? Do you often find you are trying to work on your own projects and then you are interrupted by yet another urgency? If so, it is time to determine why this is happening.
What kinds of “mini-fires” are you dealing with during a regular work week? Have you ever thought about it? Could it be:
A last-minute request someone should have asked you about earlier that is now escalated to the “urgent category”?
An upset client or customer that wants to talk to you immediately?
A piece of equipment you need which is not working?
An escalating argument between co-workers?
A missed deadline AGAIN because someone was not organized?
A misunderstanding of who was responsible for a task, therefore it was not done and now needs to be completed immediately?
One staff member talking to you about a concern about another staff member that you need to deal with before it causes dissension?
Depending on your area of work and your work responsibilities, there may be other kinds of last minute urgencies that occur that take you away from what you need to do. This week, take time to be aware of the following:
Are there times when you are trying to complete a project or task and you are interrupted by an emergency? Until you start to measure it, you may not be aware of how often this occurs.
How often do you find yourself “putting out fires” during the week? Daily? Many times in a day? Once a week? This will help you determine how serious this is.
Do you notice any trends or common threads in these urgencies? Is it due to human error or lack of dependability/ability on someone’s part? Is it a policy or process still needing improvement? Is it a piece of machinery or equipment that is not working? Is it something else?
The best way to avoid a forest fire is to minimize the risks. This is not possible in all circumstances, despite best efforts. It is the same in the workplace. The best way to avoid putting out fires all day is to minimize the risk of them starting. It is not possible to avoid all of these last minute urgencies but thankfully, many can be avoided.
This week, record what these “fires” are and join us next Monday when we discuss what could be ‘sparking” them.
Have a wonderful week at work, and God bless!
Bonny, Christian Women at Work