Prioritizing in a Crisis: How to Prioritize When Everything Is On Fire

Prioritizing in a Crisis: How to Prioritize When Everything Is On Fire

For most Americans, the Coronavirus pandemic is THE CRISIS of our time. It is unprecedented in its scope and its impact on our economy and our lives. You know when a crisis hits because immediately, it feels like you’re surrounded by urgent tasks that all need to be completed as soon as possible – nothing can wait. Unfortunately, unless you’re superhuman, not all tasks can be done at the same time. A prioritization strategy becomes key. Here’s some insight to how I’m prioritizing in the midst of the pandemic.

Accept the fact that it’s impossible to do it all. Yes, I said it – no matter how many all-nighters you pull, you’ll never address everything that needs to be completed as soon as possible. While that truth may make you feel anxious, try to find peace in accepting that reality.

Own your emotions; don’t let them own you. Decision making in a crisis often comes with anxiety and other emotions that can get in the way of making progress. Do not ignore those feelings, name them, and own them. It is normal and acceptable to feel anxiety during a crisis. Repeat that truth to yourself as often as you need to. However, anxiety has the power to cripple decision-making. If you begin to feel like you are unable to function as a result of your emotions, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

Begin by making sure basic needs are met. Maslow’s Hierarchy is a motivational theory in psychology that presents the human needs in a pyramid. In priority order, the needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. When we’re functioning in “normal” time, chances are basic needs are met, and you’re focused on meeting needs higher up on the pyramid. However, amid this pandemic – and many crises – our sense of safety is affected. For some, physiological needs could also be in jeopardy. When you start to prioritize, try to look at the pyramid and see where your tasks fit. The true priority is ensuring your team (could be employees, patients, residents, customers, etc.) has their basic needs met first. Don’t forget my reminder about applying your safety mask before the person next to you (refresher on that in this previous post) – focus on making sure your own needs are met. This isn’t a time for skimping on meals and sleep.

Map it out. I’m a visual learner, so I use mind mapping often. When I encounter a problem, I like to put it in a visual so I can see the problem and everything connected to it. Usually, this helps me identify the root(s) of the problem, which gives me a great place to start. When everything feels like it’s on fire, everything seems urgent. However, crises come with a lot of noise and information overload – it’s easy to get bogged down. A mind map can help provide clarity on how everything is connected and what actions can have the most significant impact.

Know that you can’t fix it, but believe that you can make it better. No, we can’t control the pandemic – and often we don’t have control in a crisis – if we did, would it be a crisis? When it feels like everything is out of control, I’ve noticed there tend to be a few key driving forces that you can control. Identify and focus on them. If you remove those few driving forces, you will be able to help either mitigate the harm associated with the problem or solve the problem.

You will probably make a mistake (or few!). Repeat after me – my identity and worth as a person, business leader, manager are not based on the decisions I make. We all make mistakes, personally and professionally. It’s what you do with the error that is going to define you more than the mistake itself. In a quick few steps, this is how I try to navigate mistakes: swallow my pride, manage my emotions, communicate honestly, and take action to fix it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Focus on the vision and hope for the future. Finally, I want to give a broad piece of advice for any problem, big or small. Without vision, people perish; without hope, little happens, and things break down. People need a vision to follow and hope for the future — and in a crisis, you have the opportunity to provide it.