Choice Management: letting small fires burn
Mon 01 November 2010
, Alison Miller & Peg Rowe, managing partners of Tiara International, Tiara International
Letting small fires burn can be good for the forest. Don’t put out all your small fires immediately. Let them burn and get back to them later.
Clarity about what matters most to you is critical to choice management. Once you have greater clarity of your vision and values (and this is an ongoing discovery process for all of us), you then have the opportunity to focus your energy on taking action each day aligned with your vision and values. We are not saying you need to do this 100% of the time. The real goal is to continually increase your alignment by being conscious of what you are choosing and as much as possible having the courage to choose what matters most to you. And if you don’t make that choice, there is no need to beat yourself up. Rather, it is an opportunity to increase your alignment.
In our experience coaching women, we often see many goals, priorities, tasks, and responsibilities compete for time and attention. These women often find themselves multitasking, stressed, and desperately trying to beat the clock and complete as many urgent tasks as possible. They want to do things like take better care of themselves, spend more time with their families, foster a better work culture, or develop their own team leadership skills yet more urgent, pressing tasks such as responding to email, attending meetings, and fielding employee questions keep taking precedence. They get stuck in a rut of believing that once the fiscal year is over, a new assistant is hired, or a project is completed they will finally have time to do what is most important. Yet, they find no matter what they get done, more urgent tasks are just around the corner. So how can you make a shift and start taking more action that is aligned with your vision and values. In other words, how do you do what is important in life but not necessarily urgent?
Letting Small Fires Burn
Consider this metaphor. In the fall of 2007 a very serious fire burned down hundreds of thousands of acres in San Diego, California. A significant reason the fire was so devastating was due to a 100-year old National Forest Service policy directing firefighters to put out all fires immediately. At the time this policy was enacted, it was thought that putting out all fires was the right thing to do to protect the forest and surrounding communities. Yet, there is a huge negative consequence of this policy. When fire is never allowed to burn in a forest, an enormous amount of fuel consisting of small trees and brush as well as dead and dying trees and plants accumulates. If you mix in other conditions such as drought and high winds, the combination can lead to an explosive fire that is uncontrollable due to the large amount of fuel existing in the forest. Small, controlled fires are actually necessary for the health and greater good of a forest. If smaller fires had been allowed to burn in San Diego, there would have been less fuel and likely, a less devastating fire.
This is what happens to you when you don’t engage in choice management and you keep making urgent tasks a priority. In a sense urgent tasks are like small fires burning in your life. When you keep putting out every fire and never let your email, voicemail, work responsibilities, etc. “burn” for a while, your vision and the value-driven goals that are most important to you go up in flames. Letting “small fires burn” temporarily is for the greater good of doing what matters most in your life. Try it today. Shut down your email and turn of your phone for 20-30 minutes. Let yourself focus and give yourself the gift of digging into an important project, having uninterrupted family time, or going to the gym even though you don’t feel like you have time. As you seek to choose to act in alignment with your vision and values, remember that urgent tasks are “burning” so you will not forget about them. You will be able to get back to them.
Ultimately, it is necessary to let small fires burn temporarily if you want true power, effectiveness, and fulfillment in your life.
Alison Miller, Ph.D. and Peg Rowe, MS, are managing partners of Tiara International, LLC, a global coaching and consulting company committed to all women choosing to lead lives that inspire them. They work with individual women and corporate programs in the United States and the Netherlands designed to deepen acceptance, increase awareness, create a supportive community, and produce inspiring results. For additional information, visit www.tiaracoaching.com.