How to Focus on Your Career in a Chaotic, Crisis-Filled Job

Chaotic JobI love the quote: “It’s hard to remember you were here to drain the swamp when you’re surrounded by alligators”. Unfortunately, many of us work in an environment where the business is not well managed and ongoing crisis is the norm. When you live from one crisis to another it can be difficult to be strategic with the business, much less your own career. Chaos is a very energy-draining situation and simply making it through the day putting out fires is about all you can muster.

Is it possible to think or act strategically for you or your business in this state? In a word, yes, but it takes some strong discipline and will to prevail. One good reason to do so is that eventually strategic thinking, planning and execution will pay off. It could pay off with creating some calm in the business and wouldn’t that be worth it?

BUT, how do you drain the swamp without being overtaken by the alligators?

Utilize think-and-plan time. Most crises have ebb and flow to them. You deploy a fix and wait for the results. Look for those times when the crisis no longer requires your minute-by-minute focus. Hide away for a full hour to work on something that will help your career and is more strategic and helpful to the business. You might find that a well-placed hour in the morning before everyone comes in to assemble around the crisis will work. Adjust your thinking if using that time for anything other than the crisis seems self-indulgent. Someone has got to think about the future.

Look for a fix. Granted the crisis that arises may be rooted in poor management, but it can take just one person solving the root cause to avoid the next one altogether.

Is it really a crisis? Just because someone’s hair seems to be on fire doesn’t necessarily mean it is a crisis. Ask questions so you know for a fact that your immediate attention is warranted.

Adjust your expectations. For an environment that seems to never settle down, you may need to lower your expectations of how much strategic planning and career work you can do. This may be cultural. Some people thrive on chaos and think that’s just how things work.

Make crisis your expertise. Some people are simply better at working fast. They are like a sprinter. In and out fast and then on to other things. If you are speedy and have a good capacity for a big load, then consider turning this situation into your personal brand. You still do the strategic work and the crisis while demonstrating that both things are important.

Some leaders begin their professional lives in crisis environments and never really realize there is any other way to do business. “Reacting” is not a strategy, it’s a skill. Being proactive is also a skill. Become more strategic by planning ahead. Your career deserves it.


For more career tips and advice – FREE newsletter and eworkbook:  From Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – Your Career Change Agent from and

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is a certified life and career coach. She works with aspiring professionals who are looking for career growth, advancement and entry into the “C” suite. As well, she works with people to overcome the sometimes daunting task of changing careers. With over 21 years in management, Dorothy has coached, trained and guided other professionals who have gone on to impressive and fulfilling careers. Her personal philosophy about careers is: “It’s not JUST a job; it’s half your life – so love your career”. You can check out her resources, blog and services at Next Chapter New Life and MBA Highway.

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  1. Dorothy – I have worked in a business where crisis became the norm for a while, and it was tough to drop the strategic view just because there was so much that needed to be done. But every crisis comes to an end eventually. It is wise to plan for this event, and as you say, taking some time out to consider what will need to be done at this point is vital.

    It is difficult to ‘see the wood for the trees’ and the thing to remember is the crisis does not occupy every second of the day. It’s ok to take some time out !

    - Razwana

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