Targeted Organizational Development


Stop the Chaos

Chaos. It’s a word that seems to resonate with nearly everyone. Something in their life feels in or near the rim of chaos. While the word does have a one-size-fits-all application, the actual feeling of being in chaos is highly personal. It can be time sensitive. It can be geographically triggered (home, work or social). And it has the nasty habit of touching every aspect of life even though it is more likely associated with specifics.

For the work place, the feeling of chaos can start when you walk in the door. Phone calls await, someone needs something now, a deadline looms, there is a ticking-time-bomb just around the minute hand. And the day hasn’t even started! And on top of the individual items, there is the feeling that it’s unclear exactly when things are going to get better.

Home and family may not be much easier. To keep everything running requires juggling skills found most often at the circus. The national remedy for “chaos decompression” is a vacation. Too bad that happens once a year! It seems crazy to work like a dog for 50 weeks to live unplugged and relaxed for two!

Solutions.  Three things come to mind. The first is to take 5 Good Minutes. Whether you start or end the day with time out for you to get organized it’s time well spent. There is a story from World War II that provided a great illustration of the point. We all remember the movie, Saving Private Ryan. Once the Allied forces got a foothold into France, following the Normandy invasion, fighter planes were moved from England to forward bases in France. Within the first couple of months there were more airplanes lost to crashes than enemy guns. The reason: adrenaline fueled pilots got a mission, ran out to their plane, started the engine and took off. In the rush they forgot something; the fuel cut off switch, the rudder lock, something. That all stopped when they were ordered to sit in their planes for 5 minutes before starting the engine. Crashes nearly ceased! Same with you. Take 5 minutes to plan your day or activity. Schedule time to plan, write, return calls or think about problems instead of just reacting to them as they randomly come at you.

Second, look for patterns. You can do this by having a daily schedule and then see what continually causes interruptions. You may find it is a person (even your boss), the telephone, meetings you don’t need, fires to put out that never seem to be solved, conversations you don’t need or worthless work. Find the pattern (see additional tools on our website) and force a change.

Third, create a Stop List. As Americans, we are great at accepting more work. Can we help with this or that project, memo, meeting, activity? Can we make time to do informal counseling for a friend or co-worker, or cover for a sick or terminated employee? You can do all of those….for a time. But, you can’t keep doing them. Make a list (another interesting and important activity to controlling chaos) of what you do. Find two items on that list you think can stop. Share your list with your boss or supervisor and ask for their input on 2 items they feel are stoppable. The goal is to agree on what the 2 items are. If they find none, that can start a somewhat different but needed discussion.

Managing chaos is about gaining awareness and incremental control. It can be done. The art is in sustaining the practice.

Ellen Colodney