Dealing with Derailment

Last Saturday morning I took time to plan out my work week.

I may as well have typed Ctrl-A and hit the Backspace button. Or printed them out and then torn them to shreds.

My original plan for the week:

  • Work on Important PixelMill Customer project to wrap up by end of week
  • Fit in product development and program development where possible.
  • Work on my own client projects.
  • Have more “margin” to live, hang out w/ hubby, try some new recipes, play harp.

The reality:

  • Work on Important PixelMill Customer project.
  • Be reminded that Equally Important Customer project has major due date in one month’s time. Ack!
  • Get some last-minute updates to make to another Important Partner’s site before it goes live on beta.
  • Scramble to please my own clients.
  • Everything else goes out the window.

On the flexible-spontaneous vs. structured-stable scale, I naturally fall on the structured-stable side of things (although living with a flexible-spontaneous husband has been shifting me toward the other direction over time in certain areas). These aren’t just learned habits — this is my preference, my personality. Who I am.

  • I like order (although this is not necessarily “visual” order, as the sometimes chaotic state of my work area can attest to).
  • I like routines (although I am not always very good at keeping to them).
  • I like predictability (therefore, I have a hard time with volatile personalities).

There are some natural challenges to having this kind of personality; mainly, that life isn’t always predictable or stable (or, at least, I am limited in being able to predict life). Friends and family members get cancer. I get laid off. Clients don’t get their content in until several weeks after it was due. It’s really windy on the day I intend to run errands on my bike. My plan for the week gets scribbled through until it’s full of holes.

(The other natural challenge is that people who are spontaneous think that us structured people are boring.)

It’s not my gut reaction, but I’ve learned to roll with the punches as they come — at least externally. But, as I’ve found this week, the whims and needs of the unplanned takes away much-needed focus from current tasks as well as big-picture goals.

I’m coming back again to the idea of “margin.” With additional margin in my life — which means choosing to accomplish less each day — I would have the time and space to deal with the unforeseen work and personal things that crop up each day. This week, my project schedule was like an overloaded serving tray — add another item, and one gets pushed right off the edge and smashes into mustard-and-cheese-covered smithereens. (I’m not sure what on my plate has both mustard and cheese on it, but it sounds yummy.) It seems odd that to be “really” productive and happy, I would have to first choose to be less productive, but maybe it’s one of those things that seems contradictory but is true.

Brainstorming ways to achieve more margin:

  • Saying no is an obvious way to achieve margin.
  • Becoming more efficient and cutting out excess is another one. Spend less time doing things like taking showers, making grocery lists, handling bills and invoices, checking blog stats.
    • Using the Emergent Task Tracker (yep, Dave Seah again – I’m a big fan) to see where your time is going can help you make decisions on how to become more efficient and cut out excess.
  • Extending project schedules would work in some cases, particularly my big-scale product and program planning-related stuff for PixelMill.

Processing helps me to deal with derailment, as well. For example, writing my weekly update and remembering that billable projects were more important than other projects helped me to be okay with the way this week shaped out.

Finally, my attitude might be most important thing that helps me to survive being a structure-preferring person in an unstructured world. “Being grateful for unexpected opportunities” instead of “being angry with interruptions” is one example of an attitude adjustment I can make. Looking for humor and having fun in derailment situations will put a smile on my face, which will naturally help my attitude to be more positive. (Even just thinking about an overloaded serving tray with mustard and cheese splatted down at my feet made me giggle. Perhaps I am just easily amused!)


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