Getting Things Done as a Leader in the Fire Service


In today’s 24/7 society we are constantly bombarded with “stuff.” Emails, text messages, errands, home repairs, training classes, personnel evaluations, pre-plans, building inspections, meetings – the list goes on and on. Additionally, as our involvement and positions evolve throughout our time in the fire service, the number of things we must deal with also increases. You don’t have to be around a firehouse kitchen table long until you hear someone, with some rank and tenure, long for the simple days of riding backward.

With NFPA 1021 as an outline, many training entities have developed certification courses to prepare individuals to become leaders in the fire service - from fire officer to chief officer. However, these classes don’t provide the tools students need to help manage the volume of “stuff”.

Getting Thing Done (GTD) is a simple system, developed by David Allen, that allows anyone to capture the things that have our attention, clarify what each thing is and what we want to do with it, organize it, and execute.

This system has five a 5-step process highlighting the things we need to do as leaders in the fire service: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage.


Step 1: Capture

The first step is to capture all the “stuff” that has our attention. We can’t rely on our brains to remember these things. They must be out of our brain and into a system that we trust and maintain. Simple tools for this can include paper systems – pocket notebooks for on-the-go notes, index cards or Post-It notes, or even digital solutions such as productivity apps.

After we capture something, whether it be a Post-It note or a report we were handed, we need to put it into an inbox to await processing through the rest of the system. You can have more than one inbox, as long as you empty them on a regular basis (at least once a week). I use a physical inbox on my desk and a digital inbox in my task management software.

Step 2: Clarify

When you’re ready to process the stuff in your inbox, the next step is to take one item out at a time and clarify what it is, what you need to do with it, and decide if it’s actionable.

If there is no associated action, then the item is either trash, reference material, or something that may have an action in the future. Trash is easy, think junk mail, I don’t need to save it and it has no actions required from me other than to throw it away. Reference items are the thing we want to have available for reference in the future – think like take-out menus. If it’s an action item for the future, we need a placeholder to remind us when to take action, such as a calendar reminder. If the item is actionable, we ask: how do we move this toward completion?

Step 3: Organize

Once the very next action item is identified, we need to organize it into a system to track all of these things we have to do. The system you use is very individualized. It could be a digital system that syncs with all your devices or it could be paper-based. In your system should be your lists of projects and associated action items.

A project is anything that has more than one action item to complete. Each of these projects will get their own page of paper in an analog system or single list in a digital system. So at a glance, you can see all the open projects you have and then individual lists of action items for each project.

Step 4: Reflect

After all the action items are listed out, we need to keep the system clean and up-to-date. We need to regularly review our system and make sure it’s current and that we’ve captured everything. I prefer to do this once a week and it truly helps me stay clear and focused on what’s important and what needs my attention.

I will caution you this step is the easiest to want to skip but it is the most important, and without it, the system will fail.

Step 5: Engage

After everything is captured and we have clarified what action items need to get done, we get to do what we as firefighters do best, engage and get things done. What we choose to do on our lists of action items is based on how much time we have, our energy levels, and its priority.

I have been using this system for several years in both my personal and professional life. It has helped me reduce stress and maximize my productivity. Regardless of how much “stuff” I’m handed, I rely on the system to ensure I am focused on what I need to be focused on and that nothing is forgotten.


About the Author

Chuck Doss is a Captain/Paramedic with the Boone County Fire Protection District. He has a B.S. in Fire Science and will graduate with an M.A. in Organizational Leadership in 2018. He has 20 years in the fire service with both career and volunteer experience and is a student of leadership and productivity.





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