When the business's culture - otherwise known as "the way we do things here" - feels like a non-stop fire drill, the work and results suffer noticeably. In fact, when a true emergency happens, it can have the same result as the fairy tale story of the boy who cries wolf. It will not take long for people to stop believing the boss's call to arms even when it's real.

This is what we mean when we say "tyranny of the urgent" - allowing events to run your life and business instead of you running them. It's the tail wagging the dog. It's being far more reactive than proactive. This bad habit will eventually drive you and your people crazy, not to mention damage your business.

In everyday life, we know that very little is truly "URGENT." Keep in mind that when everything is a "priority," nothing is a truly a priority because there are no distinguishing features available for people to make the call.

Too many businesses spend most of their energy on responding to the details and the crisis of the day vs. what is needed to sustain what's coming tomorrow. We ignore the important work at our own peril instead of creating vision and key strategies, leading a healthy work culture, building a loyal customer base and trust, and developing our leaders, supervisors, staff, and vendor relationships.

Certainly there are times when the urgent is really urgent - the basement floods or the whole staff comes down with the flu. These are times when you have to pull out all the stops and figure out how to solve an immediate crisis. It is not a crisis, though, when an ad on the radio didn't run or your assistant manager quits. And it's a self-made emergency when you didn't plan a project well and you have a hard deadline to deliver against, requiring a full-court press.

The world and your customers won't wait while you're putting out fires. They will move on or over to someone else. A far better plan is to have a laser focus on those things that are aligned with your mission and will advance your vision.

Here are 5 tips to break the habit of management by crisis:

  1. Under-promise and over-deliver. This will take the urgent out of most situations.
  2. Don't let what matters most get the least amount of your attention. Plan for those things that really matter to you, your business, and your people.
  3. Make sure you know who is making which decisions about what things so they (decisions and people) aren't left hanging.
  4. Look at last month's calendar and events and check for patterns. U=urgent, I=important to success, W=waste of time. A good balance is mostly I's, very few U's if any, and no W's.
  5. Do not praise or reward people including yourself for consistently just making the deadline or pulling an all-nighter to get work done.

We all want to be in charge of our lives and our businesses. To do that well, we need to acknowledge our own bad habits and change them - if it's IMPORTANT enough!