How to stop being a fireman and start getting important things done

In a fast-paced work environment, we get overwhelmed with the number of things that can be done or we believe we “have” to do, such that we get the feeling of becoming firemen.

We answer every call, read every email within the minute. And the important matters, the long term project come last.

How to know if a task is really urgent?

The first thing about an urgent task is that it is hard to know whether it is pressing, if you should be doing it, or someone else.

When someone says that a task is urgent, it is from their perspective, not yours.

When you think it is urgent, it may not be pressing such that you need to stop doing whatever you’re doing.

The thing you should then do is to postpone it.

Give yourself time to review your current tasks. A rule you can set is to delay the start of such a task by one hour.

A truly urgent task won’t wait for that filter. You’ll realize it cannot wait an hour. After a few minutes, you’ll stop doing what you were doing and will get on with the urgent task.

A task that can wait for one hour, can probably wait for 2 hours, 4 hours. Sometimes it can wait until the next morning.

The filter to delay the response to such a task is powerful:

  • It gives you a system to treat urgent tasks and filters the one that is not
  • You can use the saved time to do other truly important or urgent tasks
  • Something urgent becomes something to prioritize
  • It gives you leverage when someone asks you to do it since you have a clear system in place

Most of the time we respond to presupposed emergencies like firemen, if you start putting that filter in place, you’ll become more of an organized fireman.

Rule number 1: delay your response to supposedly urgent matters by one hour

The important has to be prioritized

When you start getting control of urgent matters, you need to work towards prioritizing important tasks.

Strategic important matters do not happen if you do not make time for them if you do not set time in the calendar.

If you’re running around putting off fires, you’ll never get control over your tasks and your agenda.

Hence it matters that you set aside quality time on your calendar to work on the important subjects.

You’ll need to have a sufficiently large chunk of times (2-4 hours), at least once a day, if possible during the most productive time (morning between 8:00 and 12:00).

Rule number 2: put the important matters on your schedule and do not deviate no matter what

The rest can be trashed from your task list

If you’ve been putting off something from your “urgent” list to your “not so urgent” list after an hour, and it has stayed there for some time, it is time to reconsider.

If you have not moved it to the “urgent” list again, or to the “important” list, it means that it is not worth your time.

That is when rule number 3 comes in to play.

Rule number 3: something that is neither urgent nor important has to be discarded.

The inflation of tasks will be dealt with

It is so easy to build a task list today with good task and note-taking apps. The trend will be an inflation of new tasks that you rightly will take off your mind and into the app.

The consequence is inflation of tasks to be executed.

The beauty of these apps is that they will put a time stamp on your target resolution date, and the creation date.
Tasks that will be open for a long time and which you have not executed repeatedly on time, are a clear sign that they are not important or urgent according to the current set of tasks that you have.

Rule number 4: review your task list weekly and trash all the tasks that have been postponed several times and been long on your list.

It is ruthless especially if it is something you will eventually need to do. But that action will be the key to keep a lean list.

The second side benefit is that if that task you want to delete is truly important, you’ll think twice. It might give you the boost to just get it done on the spot, once and for all.

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