How do I keep crises from swallowing up my day?

by Sam on April 27, 2010

One-Minute Answer:  “I got nothing done today!”


Don’t be so hard on yourself. After all, the best laid plans… That said; there are steps you can take to seize control of your day.


Last week you saw that in every moment of life you are using time in one of five ways: (1) performing routine tasks, (2) reacting to crises, (3) wasting time, (4) engaging in misguided pursuits, (5) or acting strategically. Today we examine perhaps the most frustrating pensioner of strategic activity—reacting to crises.


We have two questions to answer: Is there anything I can do to curtail calamity? And when I can’t, how do I limit the carnage?



Five-Minute Answer:  A day is seized by crises when, with little or no warning, you lose control of events. An alarm sounds. A squeaky wheel cries for grease. A bonfire grows into an inferno. The you-know-what flies off the fan.


Are you ever panicked by the disasters in the left column below? For the ones that sound familiar, read the suggestions to the right that could prevent their reoccurrence. Beneath the table you’ll find even more advice for responding—not reacting—to any sort of crisis.


N.B.  Several of the disruptions below aren’t so bad. Indeed, ones like the betrayed customer could trigger an action in the strategic time class. That, however, doesn’t keep them from upsetting your plans for the day (or the week, or the month).


Schedule Busters

Possible Preventions

Over-spent!  A budget has been grossly mismanaged to the point where resources need to be reallocated

Give CFOs and Comptrollers broad powers to monitor expenses, while holding managers strictly accountable for the same

Under-earned!  A poor revenue report sends everyone scrambling to put the best spin on the numbers and to aim sales in the right direction

Hold revenue watchdogs responsible for providing rich, timely, and accurate information on the status of business development

“I Quit!”  A valued employee announces her abrupt resignation

Never make the mistake of taking your best employees for granted; focus on sound retention strategies for all employees

“You’re Fired!”  A recent hire proves to be a mistake and you’ll need to replace him

Check out our previous counsel on avoiding hiring mistakes

“Stop It!”  Brewing disagreement between two employees breaks into all-out war that affects others and harms productivity

Reference our previous advice on preventing conflict and on resolving it

They’re the Problem!”  Friction and rivalry between two teams that need to cooperate explodes, keeping both from contributing as they should

Again, there’s help in a previous column

“Fix It!”  A major customer with a gaping wound complains bitterly about poor service and a lack of attention

We suggested ways to heal a wounded customer recently; as prevention, get your people world-class training in the art of providing exceptional customer service

“What Were You Thinking?”  Your team’s new initiative proves to be unpopular with those for whom it was intended or those on whom you depend for cooperation

Earlier advice on how to prevent “group think” will prove helpful

“It’s Down!”  A critical piece of equipment or technology suddenly becomes inoperative

Hopefully, the fix is something you can delegate without burying yourself in the weeds

Full Speed Ahead!  A new opportunity comes to your attention with only a brief window of opportunity to exploit it

This may be the best reason on this list to have your plans interrupted, demonstrating that not all crises are bad

“I Need You Here!”  An unscheduled meeting is called by your boss in her office

Can you talk with your boss about the impact these fire drills have on your productivity?

“Take Care of that Mess!”  You’re sent with little warning to put out a fire at another company location, perhaps overseas

Can someone else go in your place? Can the problem be solved remotely without building up your personal frequent flier miles?


Don’t Be Overly Derailed By the Unexpected


Before you respond to a crisis remember…

1.    The Chinese definition of “crisis” is danger plus opportunity. The danger is obvious; make sure you also see the opportunity to grow from any mistakes that may have contributed to the calamity.

2.    Anytime you establish a plan ask, “Have we accounted for all contingencies? What have we missed? If one thing goes wrong, what is that likely to be?”

3.    Give your employees, your customers, your peers, and even your boss clear statements of expectations. Get the same from them. You’ll thereby minimize the disappointments that contribute to crisis.

4.    Look for opportunity to help others grow by getting them involved in crisis resolution.

5.    Don’t be victimized by the tyranny of the urgent. Sometimes the squeaky wheel that seduces you away from an important matter pales in comparison to it.

6.    Don’t allow a crisis to hijack your emotions. To make good decisions, you need to call on the same measured wisdom you calmly apply to your non-crisis duties.

7.    Use “bookmarks.” When you have to leave a task in process in order to address an exception, note where you are in the task and what your thoughts are for your next few steps before you put it away. You’ll be happy you did this when you return.


Enough Said:  “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”  ~John Lennon


Next Week:  Do you hate to squander time? If so, open my next email: “How can I trim the waste from my day?”

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