Is It Possible to Thrive on Chaos with TimeGainer’s disciplines and structure?

I thrive on chaos. Won’t the disciplines and structure of TimeGainer will slow me down? 

I have had the benefit of working for some very successful organizations with decades and/or more than a century plus of growth and success. Over the years, as those organizations grew and added employees – 10,000, 20,000 – over 100,000, they had to add structure, policy, and some level of governance to their processes to ensure consistency in both employee and customer experience. 

The former Chief Operating Officer for Whataburger, Dino Del Nano, was fond of saying, “Governance is meant to be grease, not gravel.”  

You may be asking, “What does that mean?” If you think about a process being represented by a series of cog wheels that work together – governance (the structure, rules, guidelines) should be “grease” to ensure easy movement, not “gravel” that would clog up the cogs and prevent that easy flow. I love that imagery.  

Often, we confuse structure with restrictions. When, in truth, having a clear set of rules of the game is liberating, not restricting. Fewer exceptions, less opportunity for things to be “out of bounds”, a clear set of expectations. Grease, not gravel. 

We’re all “fire fighters” 

For many of us, the chaos that we think about in our day-to-day work life is the chaos of “fighting fires.” No sooner than the moment we walk in the door or login to our computer, we are faced with the “urgent and important” items from customers, employees, and our boss: 

  • “The delivery still hasn’t made it; we need product today!” 
  • “My 3 kids have the flu; I have to stay home.” 
  • “I need that report by 9:00 am for a meeting with the CEO.” 

We immediately strap on our gear and start waging war on the fires of the day. And for some of us, it’s not just firefighting. It’s more than that – way more. It’s exciting, exhilarating, and rewarding. We “do our best work” under the pressure of tight deadlines, being short-handed, and seemingly being asked to pull rabbits from our hats! 

Even if you’re not that excited by the prospect of reactive, high-pressure work, nearly every one of our jobs has a major portion of the effort that falls in Stephen Covey’s Eisenhower quadrant of Urgent vs Important (Quadrant 1) – being both Urgent AND Important. Reactive. Firefighting.  

That is not a bad thing – we should be working on those things that are both urgent and important. For many of our roles, this type of work will be 60% or more of our weekly work – completing activities including those that involve: 

  • Crises 
  • Pressing problems 
  • Deadlines 
  • Meetings 
  • Preparations 

Is it chaos – or dysfunction? 

A question that needs to be asked – “What percent of the need for firefighting is self-inflicted?” If it is more than 20%, I would change the word chaos to the word with dysfunction. Ouch! (it’s tough to look in the mirror) 

Procrastination, conflict avoidance, and maybe even laziness will contribute to self-inflicted firefighting. Not doing, not planning, not delegating – yesterday, last week, or last month will lead to unnecessary firefighting today. The quality of work, the attention to detail, and/or the consistency of output will suffer when I could have acted but didn’t. How often have you heard yourself saying one or more of the following: 

  • “Given the time that I had, that’s good enough.” 
  • “Good enough for government work.” 
  • “I didn’t want to do this anyway – this will have to do.” 
  • “If they want more detail, they can ask for it later. I did all I could do given the deadline.” 

The goal of prioritization is to spend more time completing work in the upper right-hand “proactive” quadrant, Quadrant 2 (Important, but not Urgent) including activities that involve: 

  • Planning 
  • Relationship-building 
  • True re-creation 
  • Prevention 
  • Values clarification 
  • Empowerment 
  • Delegation 

When done effectively, completing work in quadrant 2 – (finishing activities before they become urgent!) will limit things from “boiling over” into quadrant 1.  

The actions of planning, prevention, empowerment, and delegation will reduce the weight and the number of pressing problems. We all can juggle. But juggling two anvils or 13 tennis balls is a bit much – for even the best jugglers! 

How often do we procrastinate to the point where we have 2 or 3 heavy work efforts (think anvils) with similar due dates? Or due to an unexpected anvil or two, end up with not a manageable 3-4 things in queue, but 10, 11, or 13 things (think tennis balls) without the capacity to even get them all started and up in the air – let alone start to juggle them! 

How often do you catch yourself saying, “It will take me longer to explain the process to someone else than it would to just do the work.”? And guess what – you’re right! You’re right the first time – and depending on the complexity of the tasks, maybe even the second, third, and fourth times that someone else completed the task. 

However, there will be a point where not only did empowerment or delegation to others not only saves you time, but you find out that the other person is more efficient and effective than you ever were! They have a new set of eyes; they are not married to the “way we always do it” – they challenge the standard practice to create efficiency. 

Better than them doing the job more efficiently and effectively, they did the job – freeing you up to do other work. Quadrant 2 work. 

Your job as a manager is to increase the competency and productivity of your team. Empowerment and proper delegation allow you to do both.  

We use the Situational Leadership framework from Ken Blanchard to ensure that we delegate – not abdicate or dump work on our teams. We need to match our level of management and support with the skill level and the experience of the team member. 

Discipline provides time for creativity 

Which type of jobs do you think benefit most from adding discipline and structure? Easy – those that are highly repeatable and consistent, right? Actually, wrong. Wrong? 

While there are improvements that can still be made, those jobs already have been optimized and variation is low.  

Highly variable, inconsistent jobs where we feel that creativity is utmost is where discipline and structure provide the best opportunity. One of my lessons from John List’s book the Voltage Effect is “Systems Scale, People Fail”. We need to create systems and process for as much as we possibly can so that we allow people to do what they do best – discern, create, and make decisions.  

And I love a quote from Sharon Lechter (best known for her involvement in the Rich Dad, Poor Dad franchise) – “it is always easier to manage systems than it is to manage personalities.” 

So, even if it is only our individual, personal job that we are looking at – we should create standards and processes to ensure that we get the repetitive work done consistently. Blocking time out on our daily calendars, reflecting on our effectiveness every day, and pre-planning each day will allow us to multiply our effectiveness. 

You can thrive on chaos. Discipline, structure, process will allow you the freedom to make the most of the chaos – doing what you do best! 

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