We all fight fires at the office. The trick is figuring out how much of the fire fighting is just stuff that happens or is something preventable. Figuring that out means we need to step back to see what we are working on and what is causing the heartburn. There are many tricks to help deal with overwhelm, but an important one is to do something proactive every day. Are you proactive on at least one thing every day at work? Let us know in the comments below. If you do something proactive every day, you'll slowly lessen the emergency du jour you have on your job. You'll slowly move from reacting to everything to figuring out what needs doing to prevent fires from happening in the first place. Nice in theory, Scot. How about some examples?

The Boss Who Interrupts You All the Time

I had a boss who, every five minutes he would come see me, determine if I read the e-mail he sent less than two minutes ago and wanted to know my thoughts. Once I explained, he asked me to do that work right then. Because of this, to this day, I can't ignore my e-mail and am in disbelief of those who promote processing e-mails once or twice a day. What was the proactive move? I ruthlessly ensured that I had at least two hours of free time every day on my calendar so I had enough time for the "do it right now" needs of my boss. Since he was my boss for a fairly long time, when I got a new manager who didn't operate this way, it took me a couple of weeks to figure out why I was having so much spare time on my hands...

Doing Tasks Not Part of Your Goals Requests

Your goals are your most important work tasks. They typically constitute most of your performance review and/or your bonus. Most of us, though, throw our goals out the window and instead work on the latest and loudest requests from whoever is latest and loudest in our cubes. The proactive move here is to schedule some time every day to work on what your goals require you to do. You then subordinate every request to your goal attainment. You can get pretty specific when you turn stuff down -- "This task you are asking me to do is not part of my goals. I need the time to achieve my goals or I won't qualify for a raise or bonus. If you really think I should be doing this, let's go talk with my manager about priorities." Now, will everything you do be part of your goals? No. The key here is to proactively schedule time to work on your goal attainment and be ruthless about ensuring you keep that time sacred. No one will care if you don't meet your goals as long as they get what they want from you. Only you will get screwed if you don't attain your goals because you worked on everyone else's tasks.

The Meeting Surprise

This one has been biting me lately. You think you know the outcome of a meeting and then someone who seems to have your position nailed throws you down in a meeting. Surprise! The proactive move? Take the time before the meeting to determine what each person's position is on the problem or solution the meeting is presenting. This takes some serious time, so maybe you don't do this for every meeting you are in. Since you know the meetings that are the most important to know about, take a look at the meetings you attend. Figure out if the meeting on the calendar is a meeting where you need to know everyone's position going into the meeting. Then take the time to figure out what every person's position is walking into the room. All of these proactive positions require you to think about the work you do, what is causing you issues, and what you can proactively do to lessen the noise, surprises, rework, or calendar craziness. They require you to think through what is causing you pain in your work. The payoff, though, is a more regular work flow, better communications, and a greater ability to produce real business results.