Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Every Day is Groundhog Day

It's a little early to be discussing Groundhog Day, especially with so much of the country frozen and snowy white. I'm going to get an early start, regardless. Groundhog Day is the name for the annual celebration of that old weather predictor, Punxatawney Phil, held each February 2. The legend has it that if Phil sees his shadow, it's six more weeks of winter, if not, hello spring.

The annual event was the theme of a hit 1993 movie starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell.
In the movie, Murray plays a weatherman sent to Punxatawney to monitor the celebration. While there, he lives the same day over and over, waking up each day knowing exactly how the entire day will go, what everyone will do, and realizing that he's condemned to live that same day endlessly, over and over again.

Working a fire department administration job can be a lot like the movie. A while back, my boss made the comment that "Every Day is Groundhog Day". He went on to say that he comes in every Monday with a "to do" list. Then the staff meeting pushes new priorities to the top of the pile. Then a couple of new personnel issues pop up. Then there are the questions about "do I get overtime for that class, Chief?" Then a citizen complaint. Then the budget gets cut and we have to re-calculate everything for the other half of the fiscal year. Then there's a problem with a contractor. Then, it's Friday afternoon and most of the Monday "to do" list is still untouched. Next guessed it...Groundhog Day all over again. Don't forget the 37 phone calls, 12 new voice mails, and so much email that the system administrator calls to ask "when are you going to clean out your inbox?" for the third time this week.

There is no way to completely control Groundhog Day...sometime things just happen.
I have found a few ways to keep it from being completely out of control, however.

Rule 1 - Don't work on anything really important for the first hour of every day. Get a cup of coffee, ask about the administrative assistant's family, plan a social event with one of the fire companies, or see if the Chief will take you out to lunch. Then, go to the office, check your email and prioritize it. Ditto for voice mail. Respond to the small questions that will come from the companies, especially on Monday. Don't let last week's minor work pile up this week.

Rule 2 - Communicate with your boss. If you're swamped, tell him/her. If working on the new project he/she just gave you, ask what two other incomplete projects you can forget for a while.

Rule 3 - Prioritize. Most of us have an overwhelming workload that forces us to seriously prioritize, but it's easy to lose focus if you try to please everyone. Make sure that the really important things get done. How to tell if it's really important...If not doing it will cause someone to die, it's important. If not doing it will cause someone a serious injury or illness, it's important. If not doing it will screw up a multi-million dollar project, it's important. If not doing it will cost you your job, it's important. If it won't do one of the above, maybe it's not Priority 1 today.

Rule 4 - Don't be too busy to go to calls. If your department has a working fire and you think you're too busy to go...well, let's say that you should NEVER be that busy. This one should probably be Rule 1.

Rule 5 - Plan. Keep a calendar. Use a PDA or your laptop to remind you of meetings, deadlines, and important dates.

Rule 6 - Be patient. Working on administrative projects isn't like seeing fire come out the window and 10 minutes later we're starting overhaul. Working projects is a never-ending, well, Groundhog Day. You won't finish a major staff project in 10 minutes. Don't expect instant gratification during a staff assignment. You won't get it.

Rule 7 - Look at the calendar. See when the next Monday arrives. Mark it as a Groundhog Day holiday. Trust me on this one - most Mondays are just like Groundhog Day, deja vu all over again.

Rule 8 - Look in the mirror. If you don't like what you see, go look at your boss. He/she probably looks more stressed out than what you just saw in the mirror. That's not going to lower anyone's blood pressure.

Rule 9 - Delegate. If you try to micromanage everything, you'll spend your life looking at trees and never realizing that there's a forest. You'll be unaware of the lumberjacks working their way toward you with the chainsaws, too.

Rule 10 - Leave work at work. Nothing says "Divorce" like coming home every night complaining about work to your spouse. Most spouses don't really care what kind of day we had, as long as we actually come home alive and well.

Rule 11 - Did I mention that Monday rolls around every week?
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1 comment:

  1. Welcome aboard, Ben! I'm going to try out some of these around my office, even though it's not a fire station.

    Also, Groundhog Day, is a great movie -- a family favorite since it's my dad's birthday.


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