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          Busy people get things done. I used to say those words all the time - usually in a sentence like this one, “If you want to build a successful team, look for busy people because busy people get things done.” There is a coma of complacency in society today. we are battling a communicable disease I call entitlement mentality. Everyone wants the rewards of labor, but far too many don’t want to work for those rewards. Many who do the work are busy, and busy people get things done. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

          Well, I have come to learn those five simple words are in fact wrong. Have you ever wondered why you or your team are not achieving desirable results even though you have been incredibly busy doing important activities? Perhaps you have also noticed that other teams have been knocking it out of the ball park while yours seems to be stuck in a waist high puddle of thick, putrid mud.

          Why is this happening? You know you are working just as hard, maybe even harder than others, but you just can’t seem to make the progress that you want and expect. Perhaps your entire team feels as if they are running up the down escalator. It doesn’t make any sense because you know you are putting in the sweat equity needed to succeed, so why aren’t you?

          The answer is simple. Most people foolishly convince themselves that they are busy, sometimes too busy to do anything more than they are currently doing. And they are right because they are busy – busy doing the wrong activities. Have you ever seen or heard of the rock demonstration? If not, you might find this interesting. Imagine you are sitting at your desk and you have a 1 gallon bucket in front of you. Also on the desk are four elements. They are water, sand, pebbles and large rocks. Each of those elements represents a different activity that is required for your team to be more productive. Using success on the fire ground as an example, the water would represent maintaining our tools and equipment. The sand represents self-education, which includes such things as watching training videos, attending seminars and reading SOP’s, articles, or books. The pebbles represent learning about the incident command structure and the specific roles of every assigned position and company. The bigger rocks represent hands-on training on the thing we will be doing the most – modern day firefighting. All of these activities are extremely important, but most new officers fill up the buckets of their team members with water, sand, and pebbles and leave no room for anything else. In other words they are busy doing things like maintaining tools and reviewing documents and procedures. So busy in fact that when it comes time for the rocks, they realize their bucket is already full and there is no room - or more specifically, no TIME - to do the activity that matters the most, which is practicing the skills, procedures and techniques they will need to utilize at the actual incident. No one is disputing the fact that each of the activities listed above are important. The illustration simply represents how most teams are spending too much time on some activities, and not enough on others.

          How do you correct this? The first step is to acknowledge you are not prioritizing correctly, which means you are neglecting to do the activities that matter most. This is an important step because you can’t fix what you refuse to acknowledge. Next, choose the most important activities your team must do on a daily basis in order to achieve success and make those activities your top priority. Solving this problem requires that you identify the difference between activity and productivity. Begin to fill your bucket with the more productive “success producing” activity first. Consider the fact that when you fill the bucket with water first, there is no more room for sand or pebbles, let alone larger rocks. Now, let’s reverse it. If you put the rocks in first, there will be room for pebbles and sand to fill in between the voids. And whatever spaces the pebbles and sand do not fill, the water surely will.

          Let me further clarify this illustration with another example of a real estate agent names Susan whose goal is to sell houses. If Susan fills her calendar with qualified showings (large rocks), she will find it easy to educate herself on available inventory (pebbles) and make calls to her prospects and team members throughout the day (sand), and read educational material about how to become a better sales person (water). The result will be more sales and increased income because Susan isplacing an emphasis on the activities that matter the most. If, on the other hand, Susan fill her calendar with the other activities and becomes so busy that she doesn’t have time to show houses… well, let’s just say Susan is going to have skinny kids because she will not be putting much food on the table.

          If this common problem of being busy but not productive is happening with you or your team, it’s time to revise your strategy. Revising a strategy is not a single person activity. On the fire ground, the Team Leader (Incident Commander) reviews, evaluates and revises strategy and tactics based on the progress reports he or she receives from the other firefighters on the fire ground. The IC may know what’s happening in the command post and in front of the building, but they don’t necessarily know what’s happening inside the structure. This information has to come from others.

          If what you and your team are doing is not working, evaluate your actions and revise them, otherwise you’ll make the mistake many teams make and keep doing the wrong activity. If you are not achieving the results you want, you are either not doing the right activities, or not enough of the right activities. Either way you would have to review, evaluate, and revise your tactics so you can begin achieving the results you want. To quote my favorite coach, John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”


* Step Up and Lead

* Step Up Your Teamwork

You can’t fix what you refuse to acknowledge.

Frank Viscuso







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