Hello there! It is said that up to 70% of employees spend time putting out fires at work. Now this may not sound like such a bad thing, but really what this means is that 70% of employees spend the majority of their workday jumping from problem to problem and providing quick fixes that are assumed to move issues out of “crisis mode”. Early in my tenure in my current position, this was my life. I would like to say that I spent 6 out of a 10-hour workday extinguishing flames. Some that felt unimportant to me but both important and urgent to others; and, others that made me feel uncomfortable if they were not immediately addressed.
Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” When I first read this quote I thought to myself, “Who has time to spend 55 minutes thinking about a problem.” However, after further digging on what he meant by this, I realized that this was a brilliant approach.
Over time, I worked to ensure that 80% of my day was spent either proactively putting structures in place to prevent minor problems from occurring (i.e. employee policies), and/or working to truly understand the root causes of problems. About 20% of my day was spent on solutions…and all of that other stuff I was paid to do. This was an important shift for me to put into practice. I may have only been 2.5 years into my position before I realized that some of the same “problems” were taking place and often times reinventing themselves in a variety of ways. Just when I thought I found the nature of the beast, it returned and often times with a vengeance. This was surely a reflection of my leadership and I wanted to be sure that getting to the root causes increased my productivity.
As of the writing of this post, I think I have mastered the strategy. It came with reorienting to problem solving; spending more time on identifying the opportunity and less time becoming bogged down by the problem.