Organization & Leadership Consulting

Fire Breaks: A Time Management Technique

Fire Breaks

As I have noted in other posts, I believe that time management, no matter what your profession, is one of the singular keys to success. This realization early in my professional life has driven me to be an ardent student of the subject. I am constantly on the lookout for new tips, shortcuts, and tools for better managing my time and priorities. One of my favorite sources for discovering new time management ideas are other successful people. Among the nuggets of gold I have gleaned in this way is the concept of creating a “fire break” in one’s schedule.

I learned this tip living in the West where wildfires are an annual threat. Until these periodic hellfires became a real threat to my home, I had no idea just how fierce, molten hot, and unpredictable these phenomena could be. Just walking up to the fire line and spraying the fire with water or shoveling sand over it is inadequate for all but mop up operations. So fire crews strategize to get ahead of the inferno to cut off its supply of fuel. Well ahead of the path of the flames, fire fighters use bulldozers and other earth moving equipment to cut a fire break, a wide swath of land without any combustible fuel designed to stop the fire along that designated line.

When a wiser colleague connected this technique to management of one’s schedule, the parallels immediately leapt into my imagination. Previously I had been frantic to try to control those inevitable periods of frenetic activity. This mentor taught me that my work life would have seasons when it is as though my schedule were ablaze with fires to put out, superheated with innumerable demands, and consumed by inordinately high pressure. He taught me not to worry overly much about these conflagrations of activity as though I had lost control my time and priorities. The remedy he offered was the insight of carving out a fire break in my upcoming schedule.

How to Implement Time Management Techniques

Here is how this technique works: First, recognize that there will be seasons of unusually busy activity levels. Don’t fight this as though you were failing in your management of your schedule. Busy seasons are just what comes with life as a professional. Prepare your family and close friends by forewarning them of this busy season. Tell them how long you expect it to last. Then, take out your calendar and look a week or two beyond that expected season and designate it as your “fire break week.” Plan to be home at six, schedule no travel or evening activities. Block out some extra time in your days for catching up filing, reading, training, or other long neglected tasks. Sleep extra late on Saturday and spend all day Sunday with your family or friends.

Above all – and this is the crucial detail – don’t give in to the pressure to schedule a trip or an evening meeting or a big presentation.

Don’t do it, don’t do it, and let me say it again: DON’T DO IT!!

Here is the payoff: Fire breaks in your schedule are often much more relaxing and rejuvenating than a week’s vacation!

Fire breaks have become a standard part of my management of my life and work. Why not give it a try? Open up your calendar now and schedule one now. You might just find it both a relief to look forward to and more refreshing than a vacation on the beach.


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