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Tuesday Tip: Get to the Root of the Problem!

Which season of the year has the greatest increase in house fires? Well if you are guessing the winter holiday season, you are correct. Why is that? Well firefighters and statistics reveal many reasons, but here are three of the most common:

  • An increase in Christmas tree fires resulting from hanging lights on poorly watered trees

  • An increase in electrical fires resulting from heaters overloading the system

  • And an increase in kitchen fires resulting from cooking while distracted by holiday activity

Now you’re probably wondering, “What in the world does that have to do with me?”. Well, how often do you feel like a firefighter in your business, your workplace or in your life? Do you find yourself constantly putting out fires from issues like last minute changes from bosses and clients, mistakes and delays from colleagues, and emergencies that you couldn't plan for? Calgon, take me away!

Well if you are tired of constantly putting out fires, do what firefighters do. They use what I call the fruit, the root, and the substitute approach. Now I know that sounds weird but here's what I mean.

Fruit: The fruit represents patterns. Firefighters know that fires increase around this time of the year, every year, so they consider this a pattern. Trust me, they don’t sit around the firehouse surprised when the fires increase, they expect it.

Root: The root represents the ideal fix it. Firefighters consider the root of the problem and then determine the perfect way to fix it. And what’s their ideal fix for increased house fires? You guessed it, public education. Around this season they blanket our communities with tons of information on ways to prevent fires during the holiday season.

Substitute: And the substitute represents the Plan B. Can the firefighters’ public announcements stop all fires? Not quite. So they have a Plan B. Since they know that they can not stop all the fires, their Plan B is to further educate the public on ways to respond to the fire quicker when it happens. They encourage solutions like early detection systems, fire extinguishers, and escape plans. These solutions don’t solve the problem, but they represent temporary substitutes for the ideal fix it.

So how do you adapt the firefighter approach to your life?

  • First, use the 5Ws to determine the fruit of your problem. Ask questions like “What patterns tend to distract me, when and how often do they happen, why do they happen, and who causes them?”.

  • Next, think of ideal solutions that will fix the root.

  • And finally, if you can’t solve the problem at its root, think of temporary solutions that you can use as a substitute. Consider these two examples:

Workplace Interruptions

The fruit? Too many drop in visitors to your work space. The root? Fix it by closing your door to prevent the drop ins. The substitute? If you work in a cubicle and don’t have a door to close, stand when visitors enter and it will shorten their visit. In other words, you couldn't totally prevent the issue at its root, but at least you were able to solve the problem temporarily with your substitute.

Random Client Changes

The fruit? Random client changes on a project. The root? Fix it by asking clients to use change forms that are designed to prevent random change requests. The substitute? If clients continue to request random changes, negotiate alternative ways to meet their needs. Again, this substitute does not totally solve the problem, but it helps you to handle the problem temporarily.

So remember, if you want to prevent fires and crises from stealing your productivity, find the fruit, fix the root, and if you can’t fix the root, find a substitute.

For assistance with this and other personal productivity issues, contact us today!

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