You’ve had a day or weekend that starts out pretty well but ends up with you eating too much, having one drink too many, or not getting anything done that you told yourself you’d do, right?
If so, you’re in good company, since that describes anyone who has ever lived.
And likely, anyone that will live in the future as well.
In fact, it’s so common, it’s pretty incredible that we don’t have better methods for dealing with these scenarios.
I mean, we have an enormous amount of literature on building good habits and routines, but what happens when something inevitably goes wrong?
With “Firebreaks” you can quickly get back on track – saving yourself tons of stress, time, guilt, and more.
Sounds good, right? So let’s get into it.
My Introduction To Firebreaks
I was first introduced to this idea by Sebastian Marshall.
A few years back I was out for a walk and listening to a podcast where he was being interviewed.
At the time, he was talking about building your network of A-listers, an important task since high performing people tend to be available for projects for short periods of time, so developing that network was important for not only getting to know people, but for being able to collaborate with the best people in a given area.
As an aside, he mentioned how the goal of a good productivity system was not only to let you reach higher and do more, but to stop you from falling too far down on a bad day.
This little note stuck with me and makes me think about a wave rectifier.
Since we tend to focus on the upsides, and rightfully so, we often don’t think about the effects of lowering our downsides.
For a specific example, let’s talk about food.
You’ve been sticking to a healthy eating plan, and you find yourself out and about, hungry, with 10 minutes before a meeting, so you grab whatever you can, and it turns out to be a hotdog and a candy bar.
What comes next is arguably more important than what you just did – by all means, during a daily or weekly review, try to come up with ways to avoid being in this situation in the future…but for now, what a good firebreak can do is stop this turning into a full day or multiple days of just saying “screw it” and eating junk food.
Let’s take this example.
Maybe in your daily review you have a question along the lines of “what is one thing that I could have done better yesterday?”
By answering that question you could solve the food issue and resolve to just get back on your plan.
No need to beat yourself up, or mark it as a failure – there will always be hurdles and problems, that’s life.
Besides, beating yourself up isn’t what makes you better, is it?
As a little aside, figuring out how you are motivated can be a big help here.
You certainly want to be accountable, but most of us don’t do our best when we’re feeling guilty and not able to look at the long term.
By examining the issue, finding a solution for the future, and getting back on track, we can move forward and start to reap the benefits of our systems without saddling ourselves with unnecessary guilt-baggage.
Let’s go over one more example.
I like to call this the “Future Firebreak”.
Are you prone to booking yourself solid during the week, or letting others take up your time?
My guess is that this is at least partially true – it may not be your regular mode of operating, but it does happen.
What I do from time to time is to schedule a several hour block (usually in the afternoon with no meetings afterwards) where I can do anything I want so long as I get out of the office (I work from home).
This means that people cannot book calls with me since it’s already blocked off and I have a reminder of exactly what I need to do (walk, bike, or drive somewhere besides home).
I usually end up walking (in nice weather) to a coffee shop about a mile away and doing some reading and planning or brainstorming.
The point is to get out of my normal environment so that I’m not liable to slip into the “well I’ll just check this one email, or this one Slack message, or this one task that came up today”.
It’s a Future Firebreak to help me keep a time buffer and operating at a level that I know works best for me.
What can you apply today?
If you’re feeling too busy, overwhelmed, or could just some down time to think, schedule a block in the afternoon next week of at least 2 hours.
Set a reminder that you need to go somewhere else, outside of your home or office. If possible, include a walk, bike ride, or some physical activity to get where you’re going.
Take along anything you might want – a laptop, book, notepad, whatever that may be – just try and travel light. The goal is to get out and enjoy some non-focused time, not be prepared for anything you could possibly encounter.
If you feel good and don’t want or need a break right now, try adding a line to your weekly or monthly review where you answer this question:
“What isn’t working well, and what can I do about it?”
This is one of the basic 3 questions I ask myself on a regular basis – sometimes there isn’t anything and that’s OK. But when there is, it’s obvious, and it’s up to us to name it, write it down, and do something about it.