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Are You a Firefighter or a Navy SEAL?

Becoming a firefighter or a Navy SEAL demands determination, emotional and physical strength, and a readiness to risk your life for others. Despite these shared attributes, each role requires a distinct approach to achieving their goals. Firefighters respond swiftly to crises, jumping into unknown situations to fight fires and save lives. On the other hand, Navy SEALs meticulously prepare for missions, scrutinizing details, equipment, and plans to ensure optimal success. While both approaches are practical in their respective professions, only one suits business leaders.


In the corporate realm, firefighting translates to navigating from one task to another, reacting to whatever demands arise. The notion of operating in constant reaction mode is draining. Managers or leaders adopting a firefighting approach may stay busy throughout the day, accomplishing multiple tasks and crossing off to-dos. However, the risk lies in inadvertently prioritizing tasks from others' to-do lists and neglecting their work, leaving their critical to-dos to the end of the day when energy is sapped or tomorrow.


Good managers and leaders need to dedicate time to helping their team, and sometimes essential issues that require immediate attention do arise, but this is the exception, not the norm, for highly productive individuals. Below are three examples to help you protect your time and, ultimately, your sanity.


About a decade ago, I came across a Podcast by Ironman coach Matt Dixon, where he outlined a weekly planning concept called the Sunday Special. The name is catchy, and Matt recommended that all leaders, managers, parents, etc., spend 10-15 minutes on Sunday planning out the week ahead. He suggested reviewing professional, personal, family, and fitness responsibilities and creating a weekly plan to ensure the most important topics are addressed first. The 15 minutes spent building your Sunday Special simplifies and clarifies your week ahead.


A similar concept is highlighted in Gary Keller's 2012 bestseller, "The One Thing." Keller advocates identifying the crucial task that demands attention and channeling all energy into accomplishing it. Discouraging multitasking, Keller asks, "What's the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary."


Authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, in their book "Peak Performance," echo the importance of focusing energy on tasks that truly matter, emphasizing the inefficiency of multitasking. This guidance is applicable not only in business but also in personal and athletic pursuits. Their advice aims to focus on having more energy and time for what matters most in your life.


I recently had somebody tell me they would be much more efficient if they just had a couple more hours in the day to get stuff done. I smiled and wondered how much time they spent planning and prepping for their week. If I had to guess, no time was spent planning their week, and I am sorry to say they will never find extra time.


If you take Matt, Gary, Brad, and Steve's advice and bring this into your personal or professional life, you take the Navy Seal approach. You spend time each Saturday, Sunday, or even Friday afternoon before you start your weekend, planning and prepping your next week. Identifying the most critical areas at work, in your family, and for you enables you to ensure you devote the necessary resources and energy to accomplishing them. You have greater control over your life and go into the week and days feeling like you have a plan and goal. You are not firefighting through the day; you are actively creating your day to ensure you accomplish what matters most.


It's essential to stress the significance of carving out personal time in our hyper-connected world. Regardless of your definition of "me" time, scheduling and protecting moments for personal enjoyment and relaxation are crucial.


Professionally, it would be best if you made time for the most critical areas of your job. Just as the Navy SEALS carve out time for training, mark downtime on your calendar to get real work done. This means no e-mails, no meetings, just time that you focus and get the work done that matters. Research shows individuals can focus between 45-75 minutes before taking a break. Before diving into this focused work time be clear on what you want to achieve during this time block. Deep focus and hard work are only sometimes enjoyable, and when your e-mail and phone constantly ping, and you think every e-mail needs to be answered immediately, you have to take steps to have this level of focus. You might be thinking, if I receive an e-mail from my boss or colleague I have to get back to them immediately. My answer is, doesn't your boss want you to get your work done, and what if you were in a meeting for an hour or at a doctor's appointment where you couldn't answer e-mails immediately?


We put value into working hard or always being available, but this hyper-connected mindset has a negative impact on your mental and physical well-being. Ensure you have the capacity for what matters most in your life.


If you are a leader or manager, you are tasked with important responsibilities at your job, and many of you are Moms or Dads, and you have even more important responsibilities at home. Safeguarding time for the most important aspects of professional and personal life is vital to having more quality time for family and self.


Thank you for reading.


Ian Galbraith


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