Stop Just Putting Out Fires, Start Really Working

extinguisherEditor’s note: With this post we welcome Amber Riviere to the WebWorkerDaily team. Amber is a web designer with  She lives in Louisiana, working alongside her very old boxer, Annie, and her energetic love bird, Sebas (see-bass).

I can always tell when I’m just putting out fires (moving from one “urgent urgency” to the next).

“What? A client needs help with an über-pressing concern, and it has to be handled right now or his web site will explode? I’ll get on that right away!”

“What, Ms. Prospective Client, you have the ultimate web project, but you need a quote within the hour? No problem.”

It always starts with checking email first thing in the morning. Open, read, react, and an hour later, reply. Open, read, react, and an hour later, reply. On and on it goes, until it’s two o’clock and not one smidgen of paid work has been done, or if it has, it’s been done in a haphazard way, usually at the client’s demand instead of using my own tried-and-true schedule and system. By the end of the day, I’m zapped and feel like a heel for allowing my work to control me, instead of the other way around. There has to be a better way!

Think of those all-too-rare productive days that fall at the opposite end of the spectrum. You pick up with your “Start Here” task. (You know, that’s when you stop midway through a project or task, and you leave yourself a note to “start here” tomorrow.) No email, no interruptions, no coffee breaks — you get right to work, stop a couple of hours later, and mark that task off your “To Be Done Today” list. Then you give yourself 15 minutes to check and reply to any important emails (quote requests, referrals from clients). Fifteen minutes later, it’s back to work. You check your list, pick the next most important task, and jump right in.

By two o’clock, you’re done. All lead generation is complete, you’ve finished your target amount of paid work, and you’re free to…do nothing, do anything!

So, how do you end the cycle of firefighting and have more of those productive days?

Use “start here” markers.

For every open project, you should have a “start here” note that tells you (specifically) where to pick up with the work (example, “Next up — map domain and set up email”). That way, when you pick up the project, you don’t have to think about where to begin.

End each day with a “To Be Done Today” list for the upcoming day.

Note the projects that need your attention, in order of priority, as well as any other important to-dos. Note or put stars next to the three most important tasks so that you’ll quickly zoom in on what should be done first.

Have “assigned days” to tackle recurring tasks.

For me, Monday is for firefighting, since a lot of things tend to pile up over the weekend. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are heavy on lead generation, and Friday is for wrap-up (tying up loose ends in the hope of fire-proofing Monday).

The main thing is to be pro-active. Start off each day with a purpose and a plan so that you’re more productive and, in the end, more profitable.

What steps do you take to try to balance your work week? How can you go about lessening the number of fires that you have to put out on a regular basis?

Image by flickr user samantha celera