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“The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”
We’ve all heard that ironic story of how a cobbler was so busy making shoes for other people that they forgot to make shoes for their own children. Sadly, the same can be said for those of us in the tech industry. We are so busy putting out fires for our clients that we forget to look around and notice that our business is in flames.
Sometimes it can feel like your entire day is spent putting out fires. You hop from one spot to another, fixing bugs that seem to arise minute to minute. Of course, you want to ensure that all problems are addressed. But constant firefighting can negatively impact your work quality and the work-life balance of you and your staff.
There are a couple of things that you can do to get out of firefighting mode. The first may come off as a bit of a shock or an unpopular opinion; drop a ball. As a business owner, it is your natural instinct to want to be all things for all people. Unfortunately, in doing so, you often end up pleasing no one. When you find yourself juggling too many tasks at once, it may be time to re-evaluate which one of the balls you can stand to drop. Take a look at your ROI. Do a risk analysis on yourself! How much will you lose if you continue to produce substandard work because you are busy fixing everyday problems? How much will you lose if you drop a particularly needy client to focus on others? Be open with your clients. Tell them there may be jobs put on hold or delayed, and explain why. Explain how fixing one big problem and holding off on small ones will benefit them in the long run. Clients are far more likely to be understanding when they are forewarned.
If you want to get out of firefighting mode and get into focusing on projects, this requires foresight and planning. Learn to fix problems before they arise. Evaluate what issues come up most often and why. Talk to your staff and executives. Discover which conflicts they frequently encounter and how it affects your overall business. Make it fun! Sit down at a table with a box of donuts and sodas and present them with hypothetical scenarios and problems. How would they solve them? What can they do to ensure that problems don’t happen again? Pay attention and share pertinent information with your clients. It may open up more opportunities to expand your services and pull in additional revenue.
Time management seems like a no-brainer when it comes to avoiding firefighting mode. However, we often plan our tasks down to the last minute. Make sure you allow yourself some extra time for… nothing. Problems are sure to arise, problems that will push back on pressing matters at hand. When you allot for some “nothing time,” you’ve given yourself a window to fix all the little issues that have arisen during the week without impacting more significant projects.
Firefighting all those little issues can be exhausting. Don’t let yourself get inundated with tiny flames and lose sight of the bigger picture. Prioritize, plan ahead and give yourself the gift of time. Those little fires can be snuffed out before they become an inferno!
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