I think the short answer is the thing right in front of you.
The longer answer is what is the nature of the emergency? If the house is on fire, or you’ve hurt yourself or a member of your family is poorly, then you know what to do. Dial 999 and get the emergency services onto it.
If what you mean is in our businesses, then what sorts of emergencies are there?
- Running out of money
- Threats various e.g. a solicitor’s letter
- The government changing the rules endlessly and trying to catch you out with a fine
- What else?
Do you know the book by Stephen Covey called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he teaches us to make the distinction between urgent and important?
If you never make that distinction, everything will always be urgent or feel like an emergency. And many people run their lives like this, fire-fighting. The man who bought my first business operated like this. He had too much to do all the time, so he just did the most urgent. An awful way to live your life and run your business, little satisfaction and total and constant exhaustion. Burnout is your only destination.
If you tackle important, the number of urgent requests and emergencies tends to fall away or reduce dramatically. And your adrenaline levels return to healthy, giving you something in the tank for the inevitable real emergency every now and again. I cannot remember the last time I had a real emergency and that is all down to good planning, not doing stuff which is meaningless and having reserves mostly of time and energy. I create reserves of time by always being early to things such as meetings and my coaching calls with clients whenever possible, and also by overestimating how much time most things take. And then I create reserves of energy by resting up a lot, slowing down and thinking. I find that they complement each other beautifully. Over-estimating how much time something will take will often result in a surplus of time and spare resources which can then be reinvested in resting, even if it is only sitting quietly before a meeting and having a little think about a client or about my biz my way over a delicious cup of coffee. That also counts as extreme self-care which I’ve written about in answer to Q36. It’s vital.
Most things take longer than they look like they will. One way to manage that is to charge more and take on less and build in enough time for everything in case things go wrong. It can take some time and some training to do this. So let’s look at a few examples the sort of emergencies you might be thinking about.
They are very useful. Few of us would get much done if it weren’t for a deadline, someone on our back waiting for us to deliver. I wouldn’t want to be juggling too many of these at the same time and if I ever find myself in that place, then I need to plan better next time and set an intention to get better and better at this. As it happens, I am sweating a deadline right now. Not for this book, no. But I am helping a friend with her accounts and she’s just been away on her holidays and her submission deadline is slightly less than four weeks away and I haven’t been able to have a meeting with her yet since she got back from her holidays and her accountant is on my back. So this one isn’t down to me, but I feel a sense of responsibility. This will get sorted because of those pressures. I wouldn’t call it an emergency, but it is urgent. And did you notice all those “ands” I used in that sentence to describe it? That denotes a sort of breathlessness which is stress. Happily, we are over it now; we have it sorted and I can relax and re-focus.
Running out of money
Running out of money does feel like an emergency and one I have known for almost the entirety of my self-employed life. Sometimes life is on the up and money is plentiful. Sometimes the economic circumstances make life and business a lot tougher, cash dries up and I feel like I am on the way down. And most of the time I am somewhere in the middle. This sort of goes with the territory, it becomes your new normal, and I find it very reassuring to notice that much bigger businesses go through the same thing including, on the day I am writing this, Amazon, which is owned by a man who is currently regarded as one of the most successful in the world. So cut yourself some slack. This is business.
But here’s the two things I have learned from my own businesses and those of my clients:
1. You don’t die when you run out of money. So I wonder if that means it isn’t an emergency then?
2. It always comes from somewhere. No matter how bleak and awful it feels, enough money to survive always comes from somewhere. So that would infer it’s not an emergency either?
In my Small Business Big Magic group, which has been running for several years now, each of us takes our turn in this place of feeling like we are running out of money and that it is an emergency. Usually, it turns around fairly quickly. OK, it doesn’t feel fast to you, my client, but that money always coming from somewhere usually turns up on average in our group within about three weeks. I don’t speak to my client necessarily in that time and next time they drop in I think “Wow! That was quick!!” During that three weeks, your fallow period in the Fertile Void, your job is to do all you can from where you are with what you have and without panic. Give it a go. It gets easier, I promise. Oh, and remember to breathe.
What other threats and emergencies are there? Tax bills and bills generally and letters from solicitors and government agencies tend to have threats attached to them, most of which never come to fruition and are just there to encourage you to respond in a timely fashion. Most things like that can be sorted out either with a calm review of the correspondence and reply thereto; often they go away entirely. Clean communication without panic is a good thing, and don’t leave it right up against the deadline to reply because then your own options can be reduced or compromised due to shortage of time or time pressures. That’s never a good way to do anything in my view.
If I were feeling poorly and I had things stacked up to do in my business which felt urgent I would try to work out what MUST I get done today without fail? Can I manage that? Yes = good. No = ask someone to help you or let the person who is waiting on you know the circumstances. Initially, they might be annoyed or disappointed, but they adjust very quickly so long as you don’t make a habit of it. If you have no choice but to make a habit of it, then your emergency is your health (or the health of a loved one) and that must always be your #1 priority, good or bad, especially when you employ yourself for money. In those circumstances, you might have some tough decisions to make, just for now until everyone’s better again.
I think probably the best advice I can give you in an emergency is to slow down and think everything through. Usually, I let my clients talk and talk and talk until they are “empty”. Sometimes we might do a Pros and Cons list before deciding. And we would end with “OK, what really needs to happen here?” When you are clear in your thoughts and feelings, that’s usually obvious. If it isn’t then you either haven’t taken enough non-panicky time to review your options, or you haven’t reached out to a friend, relative, or advice agency to get the help and support you need.
Do write and let me know which emergencies I haven’t covered. I’m guessing that since you sent this question in ages ago, at the very start of my book-writing journey, you’ve survived your emergency again, in fact I know you have. Which tells me do you have an OS for emergencies.
- What’s the most important thing that needs to happen here?
- Who’s going to do it?
- Do I have all I need to get it done?
- Who will I ask for help?