Focusing on proposal priorities, not on fires

Dear Proposal Doctor,

How can I be sure that I am spending my time in the best way possible when I seem to spend all day responding to crises?

If a company is about to jump off the team, I have to deal with that right away. If my best writer just landed in the hospital, I have to replace that person right away. If files are lost, I have to get to the root cause and fix our version control process.

So many things happen in the course of the day. So many fires to put out. It’s hard to stay focused on what is truly important. Is there a methodology for organizing time on a proposal?

The Fireman

Dear Fireman,

This is a great question, and a difficult one. We can’t manufacture more hours in the day, so allocation and best use of each hour is critical.

Methodologies exist for this, of course. The problem is implementing them on a regular basis. If it takes 2 hours to figure out how to save 2 hours, we end up back where we started. So, I would recommend the following simple steps.

First, make sure the items that must get done each day from your perspective are documented in some kind of system—paper, electronic, white board, or whatever works. Second, make sure your calendar is up to date with all commitments that are tied to a particular time. Third, take 20 minutes a day to step back and review your action items and your calendar for the next day.

Do it in a place where you are not distracted, and make sure you have your list and calendar in front of you. Make notes about your priorities for the next 24 hours, and gather whatever files or tools you need to be productive in the next 24 hours, including passwords to systems you need to access, driving directions to any appointments you have to drive to, phone numbers of people you need to call, and so forth.

It might take more than 20 minutes the first day, but over time you will get better at it and the investment will pay for itself in terms of peace of mind and increased productivity.

If you want more suggestions, and you are willing to invest a bit more time, I would suggest David Allen’s Getting Things Done (a book and a methodology; check out

It is possible to be both tactical and strategic in the course of the day if you are organized and you build in time for planning. Try it and let me know how it goes.

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor