8 Tips for How to Break Out of Firefighting Mode at Work

by McKenzie Chapman   Ulticareer  | Advice  | Job satisfaction  | Management  | Work tips  | Productivity  | 

Are problems piling up at work? Are you using temporary solutions to fix them? If you answered yes, this means you’re in firefighting mode.

We’ve all had periods of time at work that feel like we’re trying to use a garden hose to extinguish a forest fire. You’re scrambling to patch holes in a sinking ship, but more water just keeps pouring in.

It can be difficult to break out of firefighting mode. There are so many issues that keep piling up, that it’s hard to know how best to tackle them in a way that rewards you with real progress rather than temporary patches.

If you’re struggling to leave your firefighting in the past, check out these tips to help you along your way:

1. Try to Prevent Fires

You won’t be scrambling if there are no fires in the first place. Identify what causes chaos in your office and try to enforce rules and procedures that prevent it. Preventive maintenance in your office can save you a lot of headaches!

2. Clarity

Communicate clearly and effectively, stay organized, and prioritize your approach. When you panic it just creates more chaos. If you’re trying to put out fires, things are already hectic, so calm down and be crystal clear on how to solve the problems.

3. Encourage Looking for New Ideas

When you’re in firefighting mode, it’s easiest to quickly put a patch on the problem, even though it may be temporary. Instead of temporary patches, encourage new solutions that could be steps toward a more permanent fix.

4. Focus on Leadership

To break out of firefighting mode you’ll have to delegate tasks, and delegate wisely. If there’s an issue that’s causing chaos, chances are poor leadership perpetuated it. Prioritize strengthening your leadership to expedite solutions. Don’t be afraid to rely on others and ask for help.

5. Visualize Where You Need to Be

Try to picture what you’re working toward. When you’re firefighting you’re simply dealing with problems that are cropping up all over, but to really make progress you need to think about the long term. Considering where you would like to be and visualizing the steps you need to get there will help you achieve that, as well as prevent future issues from flaming up.

6. Don’t Reward the Extinguishers

Some people thrive in a firefighting environment because they like being rewarded. When this is the case, there’s no real incentive to break out of the firefighting mode. It also means that if you happen to be having a calmer period, they may be complacent and lack the desire to prevent fires. Make sure that your workers are instead rewarded for preventing fires rather than extinguishing them so you can reinforce your work environment as a fire-free zone.

7. Build Momentum

When you’re in the middle of firefighting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Try not to think about how much you have piled on top of you, rather try taking it step by step. If you get overwhelmed you can feel paralyzed. Instead focus on building momentum and keep charging through your work. 

8. Monitor Your Progress

Keep track of what you’ve completed and how long everything took. When you have a huge list of tasks, but have built up the momentum to plow through them, you can be surprised at how fast you can check everything off. It requires a lot of focus, but when you near the end of your list you’ll feel proud. If you monitor your progress you can have a better idea of how to block off time in the future and how much further you have to go.


So if you’re feeling stuck in firefighting mode, take a breath, evaluate, and get to work. Do you have any additional advice? Share your story on UltiCareer to let others know what your type of job is really like!

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