Are You Planning Strategically or Just Putting Out Fires?

What is the difference between setting goals and achieving them? A few things:

  • Motivation (internal motivation)
  • Resources (relationships, time, tools, skills)
  • Accountability (external motivation)

As I have mentioned recently, I am in a process of refinement – of doing fewer things more effectively.

Inherent in this is the idea of honing one’s skills. The goal is to improve the return on investment of your resources. That so many people I speak to tell me that they can’t possibly fit one more thing into their life. They can’t do anything else. What they are left with is the hard choices of choosing what to do, and what not to do. And learning how to make better use of their resources, and hone their skills.

tea ceremony

The above image is a scene from The Last Samurai featuring the ritual of a tea ceremony. It’s an image that I try to keep in my mind often. The character here has devoted his life to this ritual, to perfecting the craft of tea. That this person becomes better and better, understanding the subtle nuances that those in line at Starbucks will never know. That, when I do this in my career, I will likely find value and serendipity in places I was too busy rushing past to truly appreciate.

And yet, in many work environments, I see the opposite of this process. I don’t see strategic planning, careful consideration, and a constant focus on specific goals. I see people running around, “putting out fires,” as they say. In other words: they deal with the squeaky wheel, the person or project that is suddenly under deadline. In the financial world, we bemoan this as focusing only on quarterly revenue numbers, sometimes at the expense of long-term growth. We can’t see the forest for the trees.

And all around us, we see this:
texting while riding a bicycle
(image by Josiah Mackenzie)

And this:
texting while driving
(image by Watchcaddy)

Being distracted from the task at hand, at the risk of your own long-term goals. If you are concerned about where your career is heading, how you will achieve your goals, this year, consider the following:

How do you spend the first working hour of your day?

Is it checking email?

Checking Twitter?

Checking the headlines?


Instead of acting.

Cluttering our minds.

Instead of clearing them.

Getting bogged down in the now.

Instead of envisioning what can be?

Putting out fires for others.

Instead of building a foundation for your own success.

Reacting day to day.

Instead of building accomplishments over the course of years.

When Steve Jobs passed away, I heard so many people react by challenging others to truly create something original, something worthy of a legacy. I wonder, how many of those people have changed how they live already? How many have set out on a new path, one that pushes away from the status quo, from the well-tread path, to cover new ground, to create something that has never been, something they would be proud to be their own legacy?

How will you hone your vision; hone your skills; hone your craft this year? Will you quickly get caught up in the sludge of email, of the metaphorical laundry of our everyday lives – the tasks that pile up every week, but doesn’t build anything of value over time.

If you need a helping hand in any of this, please feel free to connect with me.

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank |