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Ask Molly: Always Dealing with Emergencies


By Jul 18,2016  0

Dear Molly,

Scheduling time and “fires” – we all have them. Things come up. It’s hard to say no to “emergencies” from clients and things like that. How do you keep things on track when things are always happening?

Fighting Fires in Milwaukee

Dear Fire Fighter,

The key to retaining existing clients is to provide great, prompt service. One place to start is to define what constitutes an emergency. In my case if a clients’ server goes down and they have active users who are unable to work because of it, it’s an emergency. But make sure you qualify that. “Hey the server is down this Monday but I know you don’t run your weekly reports until Friday, are you OK if I get to it on Wednesday?”

But let’s say you’ve qualified a real emergency. Your repeat business and referral business depends on you resolving emergency situations immediately. So you have to plan them into your day.

At our 2016 Find Your Moose conference in Chicago, I’ll be talking about portfolio management and delegation. In an ideal world, for any given project you have at least two people assigned to the project and knowledgeable of how to solve a problem. But let’s say you’re a solo act, you still need to set realistic expectations for deadlines and have padding for several hours per week set aside for emergencies.

I prioritize my work on a weekly basis by Tier 1 “Must be Done”, Tier 2 “Should be Done”, Tier 3 “Could be Done”. Let’s say I have a 40 hour work week.

  • 15 hours Must Be Done
  • 15 hours of “Should be Done”
  • 15 hours of “Could be Done”

Notice I’m over-scheduling myself. The idea is you may have work queued up that gets stalled so you need to know what the next highest priority is so you can switch gears and tackle those tasks. You also need to work on Tier 1, 2, and 3 items so you don’t fall behind on anything overall. And finally, if an emergency comes up there should be no deadlines associated with Tier 2 or 3 items so you are able to fit in emergency time.

That’s a nice little formula but what if emergencies dip into your Tier 1 items? And anyway what about those Tier 2 and 3 items that are at risk of falling behind? Well that’s why you need longer-term projections as you manage your portfolio and you can start identifying if and when you need more resources.

There are other tactics like frequent check-ins to help prevent emergencies, having dual coverage on any given projects etc. There are some cases where a client thinks it’s an emergency but I don’t, so there is a price increase for that service. At the end of the day the main priority has to be in setting realistic deadlines and leaving room in the schedule to tackle the emergency challenges.


Ask Molly is my column where I answer your questions about the things that are keeping you from truly enjoying your work. I can’t help you with your personal life or your love life, but if you have questions about your work life, I’ve got you covered. Drop me a line below and ask me a question! – Molly

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