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How do I become less reactive?

This week’s reader question is common. I start every day with good intentions, but then fire drill after fire drills happen. How do I become less reactive? Here are some ideas...

Play offense:

  • Limit email. Only check email 2 to 3 times per day, so you only have a few times a day that you can get derailed.

  • Set office hours. Tell your team that you will be completely available for them during a specific set of time (say 11 am to 2 pm), and try to put-off interruptions until then.

Stay focused:

  • Create a numbered list. Each morning (or evening before you leave), create a to-do list that is in order of what is most important for that day. That way, if something comes up, you can drop the least important items versus most.

  • Ask for trade-offs. Ask your manager when they give you something, whether this should take priority over the specific top items on your prioritized to-do list. Often, it won’t.

  • Clarify deadlines. If you have other priorities, ask if you can push back the deadline for the fire drill item. Often deadlines aren’t set in stone.

  • Clarify the level of effort. Often fire drills can be done more as first drafts versus final projects. Understanding expectations can help reduce their load.

Bounce back:

  • Get back to your list. As soon as the fire drill is over, get back to your numbered list and knock out the top ones.

  • Do a post-mortem. Once the smoke has cleared, ask your team why the fire drill happened in the first place to try to prevent them in the future.

  • What are your best ideas when you feel the heat? (And, don’t forget to share your burning working mom questions.)


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