In my book, Police Time Management, I propose an alternative way of conducting routine, start-of-duty briefings. It is a method intended to reduce the stress of continued imposition of new work that has to be juggled along with yesterday’s priorities, last week’s initiatives, next week’s court commitments, and the course you must attend or you’ll have forgotten how to hit someone with a metal bar because it’s the anniversary of when you were last told. I’ll not go into too much detail because it’s an idea that’s supposed to make you want to buy the book.
But you can imagine my smugness this week when I read that the famed ‘Getting Things Done’ pioneer, David Allen, thinks the same thing. In his deeper work, ‘Making It All Work’, he writes, “It’s a great idea, when starting meetings that are held regularly, whether in a department or a family, to have everyone contribute what primarily has their attention at the moment. (–) I learned that trying to move things forward without at least a nod to the issues pulling on everyone’s psyche is an exercise in futility.”
You’ve been there, probably. Overladen with work, and the first thing that is addressed at the morning briefing is how much new work you’re about to be allocated, you lucky thing, you. This is primarily the result of faulty thinking: not malevolent thinking, which would be designed to make you miserable, but thinking that is the result of unconscious responses to the reality of being an emergency service.
What happens is that something urgent happens, followed by something else that is also urgent. After a while, we conclude that the only way to deal with anything is to treat it as urgent, as ‘gotta be done NOW!’.
(Which would explain why, in my day, a crime complaint had to be completed by your end of tour on Friday at 5pm so it could sit in the post tray to be forwarded to arrive at Divisional HQ next Tuesday.)
We teach ourselves that we don’t have the time to anything because something ‘might’ happen that needs urgent attention. But the truth is – while the initial response to some things might be justifiably urgent, the post-urgent investigation and administration rarely is. It’ll take as long as it will take. But we see that list of those non-urgent tasks and they scream at us to be done now, just in case that next thing happens.
So the briefings routinely add to your work while manifestly failing to address the fact that your earlier urgencies have created routines that need to get done. But the new work might not be urgent enough to stall the taking of action on your current list of things that need to be done. Nevertheless, the briefing puts the new work ahead of the old work.
My advice, like that of Allen, is to think differently. Do it backwards. Allocate new work after the room has outlined its current commitments.
Granted, that will be a fluid approach. There will be times when ‘now means now’, but just being given the opportunity to the room to outline the occupants’ needs, before allocating new ones, will have an amazing effect on stress levels and productivity.
I go into more detail on m’book. But give this idea some thought, Sarge.