What We Can Learn From Designated Survivor.

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Over the weekend I began watching Designated Survivor. A US drama by ABC in which a low level minister in the US administration becomes the President after the incumbent President and all of Congress and House Representatives are killed in a terror attack on Washington DC.

The new President, played by Keifer Sutherland, has never had so much power and responsibility and suddenly finds himself having to deal with incredibly challenging situations. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you do. It is gripping and very entertaining.

From a productivity point of view, I found myself admiring the way President Kirkman, (Keifer Sutherland’s character) handles these challenging situations. Advisors demanding decisions, foreign countries taking advantage of a weakened US government to benefit their own causes and terrorists striking all over the US, there never seems to be a moment where President Kirkman can just sit down and relax for a few moments.

This reminded me of how many of us work today. There is so much stuff being thrown at us, from emails arriving at every minute of the day and night, text messages and demands from our colleagues for a decision on this project or that project. Professional and personal issues demanding our attention all at the same time. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy. How do we cope in these testing situations?

Here are a few lessons we can learn from the Designated Survivor that may help in our quest for a better, more productive life.

Be guided by your values

What I saw in President Kirkman is a man who at first is overwhelmed by all the decisions he has to make evolve in to a decision making machine. President Kirkman’s abiding value is “the truth”, he is never once tempted to show a slight of hand or to deceive. He only wants to govern in the fairest and most open way. Occasionally he will delay announcing something if it gives him and his advisors a little breathing room to make a better decision, but his overriding values of truth and openness prevail in all his decisions. And this is true in our real world. If we allow our values to dictate the decisions we make we will always make the right decisions. This decisions may not always be in our own short-term best interests, but because the decision came from our values, they will always be the right decisions in the long-term.

Values such as integrity, honesty and hard work are values that will always serve you well. You may have other values, but the important thing is you allow all your decisions be guided by your own values. When you do this, no matter what, your decision will always be the right decision for you, whether or not they are the right decisions in the short-term.

Don’t put off difficult decisions

Another trait I noticed in President Kirkman is his ability to prioritise what is important and needs dealing with right now and what can be dealt with later. Putting off the hard decisions does not make them go away, they hang around like a bad smell. You need to deal with the difficult decisions first. The easy decisions can wait. Deal with these early in the morning. Make the decision, and then move on to the other things you have to deal with. You will find yourself so much more productive if you do that. My advice is to take some time out either in the evening or before you begin your day to decide what needs to be done and make sure the most pressing, urgent and difficult decisions are the first things you deal with. You will feel so much better for doing this.

Get ahead of existing and potential problems

One of the most commonly used expressions in this drama is the expression “we need to get ahead of this”. Meaning, when something goes wrong, or something looks like it is going to go wrong, you need to be ready with your response. You may even need to deal with the problem before it becomes a problem. The only way to do this to be completely aware of what is going on in your world. Maintaining a todo list manager and an up to date calendar helps here, but so does taking some time out to review everything that is going in your world, both professionally and personally. If you manage a team of people, give them space to work, but make sure they are giving you regular updates. You don’t want an employee coming to you with a problem that is already a week old. You need to be anticipating and reviewing, so the problems either don’t occur or you are able to mitigate them when they do arise.

Give yourself some quiet time

In almost every episode there is a scene where President Kirkman, stands alone either on the balcony overlooking the White House gardens, or by his desk in the Oval Office. These quiet moments of contemplation help him to see the bigger picture and evaluate all the advice being given to him. This is a great trick you can use to help you to make better decisions by allowing your brain to process the information. Once you have processed the information you can make much better decisions.

Listen and trust your advisors but make your own decisions

After President Kirkman has been in office for a few days he has learnt who to listen to and who he can trust. One of the striking characteristics of President Kirkman is he will make decisions contrary to the ideas of his advisors. But he still listens to them. In one of the early episodes one of his generals insists they begin an air attack on a terrorist suspect immediately, but he disagrees. The president wants better confirmation the suspect is there. Remember you are in charge of your department and your own life. You should listen to advice, particularly when you trust the person giving you the advice, but ultimately you will take the responsibility if things go wrong, so be willing to make contrary decisions if you feel you need more time is required or another way would work better.

No matter how busy you are, whether or not you run a large department or you are just starting out in the world of work, if you make all your decisions based on your own values, you never put off the difficult decisions, you make sure you are always aware of potential problems, you allow yourself some time each day to think through all the things going on in your life and you trust and listen to those people closest to you, you will very rarely, if ever, go wrong. Always remember you are responsible for the decision you take in your life. You can’t blame others if things go wrong.

Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.

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