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For a Software Developer When Overwhelmed by Urgent Requests Actionable ways To Overcome the Feeling of Powerlessness

True story — I get to the office and check my messages. I see a message from a customer who asks me to call them “first thing this morning”. At that moment my phone rings — it’s my boss who tells me to call that same customer.

Before I checked my message and got that call, I had another important project on my mind that I had been wanting to do this morning. How to not feel overwhelmed and powerless in this situation?

Here are some actionable ways.

1.) Immediately, before doing anything else, before calling the customer, take a few seconds to create a note of the “urgent” new case and move the case to the current date/time on my calendar. This way I feel that it’s me who is deciding to make it important; me who is moving my calendar and me who is actively deciding to make room on my calendar to make this new case happen right now. This is self empowerment.

2.) Realize that after I make the call and address the “urgent” new case, I’m going to be able to add the call-log-note related to this new urgent case to my “I done this” list after I make the call. Then I’ll be recording my work and getting deserved credit for my effort.

3.) Blog about it. I can do this by first making a quick note to write a blog post about the firefighting event. Then I can follow up and actually write the blog post and publish it to my blog (obfuscating any/all private information of course). This is empowering. Why? Because it allows me to make a record and take ownership of my effort on this case. I could take this one step further and during my next performance review or next job application, I can reference the material from this blog post as an example of my responsiveness and high performance.

4.) I can honestly look at my current top priorities (calendar/to-do) and quickly determine whether this new “urgent” request is *really* more important than my existing top prioirities. If it is more important, then I can actively agree that it is more important, which means that I took the initiative to review it and it was me who made the decision to make this case top priority, and go ahead and confidently address the urgent issue. If the new “urgent” issue actually falls third or fourth on my current list of existing top priorities, then conversely I can actively disagree that it is more important, which means I took the initiative to review it and it is me who made the correct decision that this case is third or fourth priority. I can go ahead and tell my boss that because of this more important case that it’s more benefit to the company to do the other cases first, then confidently put this new “urgent” issue in third or fourth place and do the other two more important ones first. Thus in this way I
am confident, stress-free, comfortable, and retain feeling of power, and I do right by my colleagues to help the priority cases first.

Are these four ways-of-dealing going to be enough to lessen my feeling of powerless-ness? What other ways can I take control of the situation, to keep stress low, and to make this type of firefighting be a daily sustainable activity?

Edit: This post was previously published at: w̶i̶e̶l̶d̶l̶i̶n̶u̶x̶.̶c̶o̶m̶/2016-06-29-urgent-cases-powerless-engineer.php

[2019 edit: Moved to: https://investorworker.com/2016/... .html.]