A Publication of WTVP

One piece of copier art (you know, the flyers posted in any room where the copier and fax machine are) really struck me. It said, "A crisis on your part does not automatically constitute an emergency on my part."

I’ve done workshops in time management, personal organization, goal-setting, balancing multiple priorities and similar topics that have to do with getting things done. One of the principles in any of these seminars is to get out from under "the tyranny of the urgent." The real problem, however, is to get out from under the tyranny of urgent people.

Some of us are severely overworked and carrying multiple responsibilities in this sluggish economy. Others are compulsive and take on all kinds of work, saying "yes" to every project. Many, however, work for managers and executives who are perpetually disorganized or impulsive—so everything’s a crisis. Others work for skinflints who, for the sake of wringing out every penny of profit, won’t staff the workplace sufficiently. Others have enormously high (some would say unrealistic) expectations of what can be done in a period of time. Maybe you work for someone who is some combination of these several factors.

There’s an ethical issue here, and it has to do with humane treatment of people. Crisis-oriented workplaces and disorganized or demanding managers create an unhealthy amount of stress on all others who work in the setting. So often the manager or executive does not see himself as the origin of the problems that result—poor performance, low morale, nonexistent customer service, or problematic quality, to name a few.

Instead, he or she plays the blame game—whining about difficult employees, growing angry when everything can’t get done, including the last-minute project, insisting employees just aren’t very dependable any more—or worse, berating employees for their poor performance. Who has the courage or honesty enough to say, "When you can become organized, we can do our jobs?" And would the manager or executive be humble enough to listen?

Time management, personal organization, and priority balance are not really about clock hours, to-do lists, or clean desks. These issues really are about how we approach ourselves and our work, and how we consider the needs of others. They address the issue of personal discipline and order, and how managers and executives facilitate, coordinate, and empower the work of others.

Years ago, I learned this lesson when I held an executive position in a national association. The association grew rapidly, and, despite the growth, I persisted in my control needs and wanted to see or be aware of everything passing through the office.

As a result, my desk became a wasteland, but more importantly, the people I hired to do the work felt that I was interfering constantly with their ability to let the work flow freely. I had trouble relaxing and enlarging my span of control, and the work of the association suffered—and, the people who worked with me suffered, too.

Ultimately, a board member approached me who had been an executive in a global transportation company. "Think of it this way," he said. "Your job has changed but you haven’t. You’re not the baggage handler anymore, nor the flight attendant, nor even the pilot. You’re the person who makes sure each of these people can get the plane out on time—but even more, that everyone is clear about the destination. Let the others do their jobs, and make sure you know where the planes are going."

I’ve never forgotten this advice. One more seminar about organization and a resolution to clean my desk would not have addressed the real problem: keeping the people in focus who have to do the work, and looking at how I did my job. IBI