Breaking through your emergency mindset

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day and to become very reactionary to problems rather than preparing for them. There is always going to be an emergency, that is the very nature of rescue. But, there is a difference between actual emergencies that you cannot predict or prepare for and things that feel like emergencies but are actually a pattern of predictable events.

In this article, we will cover how to know if you or your team are stuck in this mindset, ways to break out of that loop, and ways to prevent it from happening again.

Are you stuck in an emergency loop?

Here are some telltale signs that you are reacting rather than taking prepared measured responses to things that come your way:

  • You have a long list of things you want to do to improve your rescue or shelter but can never seem to get over the mountain of the day-to-day work
  • You find yourself always “on” and don’t take meaningful breaks or days off
  • You are highly anxious and easily irritated by staff, volunteers, or the public

If any of these feel like they fit, this article is for you.

Here are some things that may feel like emergencies:

  • Every intake
  • Every return
  • Issues with adopters
  • Fosters needing coverage
  • Behavioral problems
  • Medical problems
  • A staff member or essential volunteer quitting

While there are times where these events can be an emergency, most of the time they are not because you know they are going to happen at some level of frequency.

Before we continue, I want to emphasize that if you are stuck in this loop, you didn’t do anything wrong. Rescue is hard. Very hard. You only get stuck if you care deeply about your work. But trying to improve is the only way things get better, so thank you for being here.

Let’s talk about ways to break through.

Breaking through the emergency loop

  1. Identify one process to work on – This can be from the list above or maybe it’s something entirely different. But only work on improving one thing at a time.
  2. Find patterns – Identify the patterns in when / how these events happen. How many do you see on average every week, month, year?

    Consider returns – they are a part of rescue, while we can hope for a 100% adoption success rate, that is not a reasonable expectation. So, for example, imagine you can expect to receive 20 returns every month. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but now we have something to work from.
  3. Set a goal – It’s important to have something solid to work towards. Choose a single process and make a goal that is reachable AND quantitative (a definitive number or date rather than something vague like “do better”).

    Continuing our return example – if we can expect 20 returns every month, a reasonable goal could be to have the capacity to take all 20 animals back into our program within 5 days of the request. We can even have a secondary goal of taking in 10 returns within 5 days of the request if our first goal feels like a stretch.
  4. Make a plan – Now that you have identified the problem and have a goal, let’s get into how to make that goal happen.

    What needs to change about your organization in order to accommodate your goal? Make a list. Don’t filter your list for what’s “reasonable” just yet, put every idea down.

    For our return example, the list could look like this:
    – Have 10 fosters on standby at all times
    – Have 10 kennels open at all times
    – Create a short-term solution for returns that need to come back right away
    – Add a requirement into the adoption contract that adopters must keep their animals until space is available

    Of course, having 10 fosters available at all times is probably not reasonable. However, having 5 could be. 10 kennels open at all times isn’t reasonable, but having 1 could be. So, how do we work with what we have to reach our goal? Here is an example of a plan:

    1. Adopters agree to keep animals for up to 5 days while space for the animal is identified

    2. Have a team of fosters that only want to foster short-term that can foster for 5 days if the animal needs to come back right away OR if space has not been identified in the first 5 days

    3. Always have 5-10% of foster homes available for a return OR have 5-10% of kennel space open

    Give yourself a timeline for implementing your plan.
  5. Track progress and adjust – As soon as you begin to implement your plan, keep track of progress. How many returns did you have? How many were placed in under 5 days? Remember, any progress is good progress. If you feel like your plan needs adjusting or your goal needs adjusting, you can do that. Neither are set in stone.

Once you have plan in place, you should notice that these situations feel less urgent. You can predict when they are going to happen and you have control over your reaction to them. This is an empowering feeling, so let’s talk about how to stick to it.

Preventing the emergency mindset

The most important part of keeping yourself out of the reactionary day-to-day is by taking the time to plan. Set aside 30 minutes a week to check in on your goals and to adjust your plans. It may feel like you don’t have those 30 minutes but making the time to invest in the foundation of your organization will free up 100’s of hours for future you.

Finally, remember to breath. Even small steps are steps in the right direction.

Do you need help creating a plan? Contact us!

Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

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