Advance From Fighting Fire to Fire Prevention 101

When it comes to your working life, you’ll always be tempted to stay a little later at the office, to always ‘look busy,’ or to create tasks as stressors for yourself. In everyone’s mind, the fact that we look like we’re putting in the extra effort in front of our boss and peers will make us appear like we care about the job more and that we’re a better employee. We love to fight the fires at work because it keeps us busy and gives us the appearance of really earning that wage.

But wouldn’t it be better if those fires never occurred in the first place? We’d get good results, work towards continuous improvement of processes, increase our productivity and still get to leave at 5 pm. People who look at the bigger picture and solve problems before they occur are the people who leave at 5 pm, get a better work/life balance and still look like they’re doing a great job. That transition is a difficult one. Here’s how to get started:

 The LEAN Approach to Improvement

Firefighting won’t ever get you any further forward. Sure, you’ll stop the problem and carry on as you were, but because you haven’t gone to the source of the problem to fix it, the problem might occur again in the future.

To really look at fire prevention, you’ll need to take a LEAN approach to improve your processes. There are four simple steps to follow that will help you to better organise your work.

  • Understanding the bigger picture

Don’t just look at the task you have. Think about how it affects the people you work with, how it’ll affect you. Look at whether the process is productive and what would happen if you didn’t do it.

For Example:

You work with a service provider that allows you to give a translation service on your phone line. To be able to pay them for their services, you need to set up an account under their name with your finance team. You know that the finance team is notoriously difficult to get hold of as they work in a different building and their process is long-winded and fiddly. It’s a lot of hassle to achieve such a small result.

What Happens if You Don’t Do it?

  • The translation service doesn’t get paid.
  • They stop working with you.
  • You can’t provide your service to people who speak other languages.
  • Your profits start to decrease.
  • You get complaints.
  • You’ll ultimately need to find another translation provider.
  • You’ll have to go through the same process again.

No matter what happens, you need that provider to run the business, so you must pay them. You know that if you don’t, you’ll constantly be firefighting against complaints and loss of business, making your life harder and meaning you’ll have to stay late and ultimately, you’ll have to go through the process anyway.

  • Investigating the process

So, you don’t want to go through the process. Why? You know it’s not productive. Instead of having to go backwards and forwards struggling to set up the account, investigate why that process is so difficult and try to fix it. It’ll make this task simpler and it’ll also help you to make future tasks much easier as you’ve already prevented the fire.

Get in touch with your finance team directly and see if you can set up a meeting to understand the process in more detail so you know why it needs to happen that way.

  • Eliminate waste

In your finance meeting, make a list of each stage of the process from your side and from the perspective of the finance team. What do they need and what do you need for the process to work? Once you’ve got the whole list down, break it down into as many tiny stages as possible:

  1. You send an email to x person.
  2. They generate a reference number.
  3. They send you the reference number.

And so on…

Are there any steps that you can remove or that you can change to make the process more slim-lined? If they don’t need to be there, take them out.

  • Generate a sustainable future plan

Once you’ve discussed what everyone needs to get out of the process and removed any waste, the process should be much easier to follow. It’s less of a headache. Test it out, will it work in all the different circumstances that you need it for?

If so, create a process map of your new productive process. You’ve prevented future fires, you look great for thinking of the change and you’re packing up your desk at 5 pm ready for home.

And it’s not just relevant at work. You could use the four-step improvement process to prevent fires in your home life too.

Home-Life Fire Prevention

It’s all about considering what problems might occur and finding a solution before they happen. No, no one’s asking you to get out a crystal ball and predict the future, but there are some things in your life that you can just see will become a problem before they do and it’s all about you making the decision to deal with them now. Procrastinating and assuming you’ll just deal with the problem when it occurs means it absolutely will occur and it’ll take you much longer to resolve it.

Take your recycling bin for example:

You know it’s bin day tomorrow morning and you know you need to put out the cardboard bin. However, you have a ton of cardboard in the garage that all needs flattening to put in the bin before it can go out. You just remembered, but you’re sitting comfortably on the sofa with a beer watching Netflix. The bin doesn’t get collected until around 8 am, so you’ll have time in the morning to sort it, what the hell, enjoy yourself…

In the morning you wake up late, remember about the bin and rush downstairs at 7:59 am, realising that you didn’t crush the cardboard. You just have time to put the bin out with its current contents but you still have all the boxes in the garage that have been left behind.

That’s fine, you’ll do it next time. But what happens when the same thing occurs again? The problem just gets worse and worse until you must finally make the decision to take it to the recycling centre yourself in the car.

You knew this was going to happen before it happened. If you’d avoided that procrastination and completed the task before it needed doing, then you’d have saved yourself a load of time and hassle.


Thinking ahead and taking the LEAN approach can improve your processes, give you more time, save you stress and make you look like a fantastic worker all in one go. Look at your processes in both your work and your home life. Is there anything that you could change to stop a larger problem from developing later?