Editor's pick 2016: Let's Talk

Prioritize, delegate, empower and say no
December 22, 2016
Written by Mike Vilneff
Life is too short; we have all heard this cliché many times, but it seems that the older you get the more you hear and use it. So, if life is too short, what are you doing to make the most of it?


In previous columns that I have written, there was no specific audience that I was trying to reach. This time, I am targeting those of us who spend a lot of our time behind a desk; chiefs, deputies and assistant chiefs.

When I started here in Cobourg, Ont., 19 years ago, my deal was that I would work 35 hours per week and the corporation would compensate me at the agreed-upon rate of pay. I expect some of you are saying, “Yeah right – 35 hours? Not possible.” I can tell you that for the past 19 years, I have worked 35 hours a week, period. Yes there have been some nights when I have had to stay for council meetings or for some other legitimate reason, but I would venture to say that 99 per cent of my weeks are 35 hours.

I am now sure you are asking how that is possible, wondering how I get away with it or if I’m  lying.

First of all, I’m not getting away with anything. I am paid for 35 hours per week, not 45, not 50, not 60 or 70. How is it possible to work so few hours and still get things done? It’s really not that difficult. Prioritize, delegate, empower and say no.
  • Prioritize your work. Do what’s really important and put everything else in a pile.
  • Delegate this pile to the appropriate people in your organization.
  • Empower these people to get things done.
  • Say no if your schedule does not allow time.
That’s really all there is to my approach. Now I hear your next thoughts:. ”Did you lose interest?” “You’re not very dedicated!” No, I did not lose interest. On the contrary, I have stayed very interested. I am also very dedicated to moving the department forward. You can’t be interested or dedicated if you are dead tired and have no life outside of work.

My time away from work is spent doing things I enjoy. I ride my bicycle regularly. My wife and I enjoy having friends and neighbors drop in for evenings of music (she plays ukulele and sings and I play guitar and make unpleasant vocal noises). We enjoy boating and water sports when our grown children are home. We spend time together and enjoy each other’s company. I took up curling this fall to help keep active during the dreary winter months – I bought shoes so I’m committed.

The takeaway here is that there are myriad activities that you may be missing out on because you have made the decision to spend countless extra hours behind your desk at work. I ask this: why?
  1. Is it because you feel you can get two or three little things cleaned up?
  2. Is it because you don’t think anybody else can do it?
  3. Are you being compensated for your time?
  4. Is it because you are indispensable?
Let’s answer those questions together.
  1. Yes – you can probably clean these up because they really are not a priority.
  2. Yes – probably because you do not trust that anyone can do it as well as you, and you are not good at delegating and empowering.
  3. I can almost guarantee the answer is no.
  4. Your answer is probably yes. The truth is that none of us are. Accept it.
If you are at all concerned about your mental and physical well-being, I encourage you to make time for the simpler things in life. When you walk out the door today at 16:00, turn work off. Stop off at the local hardware store and pick up the supplies you need to attack the honey-do list for which you never have the time. Go sign up for that golf or badminton league or grab your significant other and go take some dance lessons. No laughing at the last one. If you have not tried it, you don’t know what you are missing; I’ve done it three times and had a blast each time.

When you go back to your desk tomorrow, I am sure the work that was there yesterday will still be waiting for you. Prioritize it, delegate what you can and let people do their jobs. You will find out pretty quickly that you really do have time to enjoy the finer things in life.

My family and my mental health is more important to me than some paper on my desk. What about you?


Mike Vilneff is the fire chief for the Cobourg Fire Department in Ontario. The 36-year veteran of the fire service is also a member of the Ontario Ministry of Labour Section 21 committee and is the chair of the advisory committee for the Fleming College pre-service program. Email Mike at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @84supra


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