LIke most humans, I’m riddled with habits I’d like to change. And like many folks, who follow the good ol’Gregorian calendar, I’ve been thinking about changing some of them with the turning over of the new year.
I’ve got a bunch of small personal changes I’m trying to make, things like stretching every day, remembering to ensure that I and my daughter take our vitamins, basic life improvement stuff. With work, I’m shooting a little bit higher. My challenge for 2012 is to stop proactively burning myself out.
What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to put a finer description on it, but here’s a scenario that should help to illuminate what I mean.
Last week, things at work went completely sideways. Stuff that was out of my or my team’s control, but exactly the kind of “going to hell” that sometimes just happens in a week. As a result I lost a good half a day or more to crisis management. Not necessarily a big deal, but in an already short week, and one that was packed to the rafters with both meetings and deliverables, that half a day was not there to lose. My resolution isn’t about trying to change the way last week unfolded. Some version of last week is always going to happen in the work world, and in the entrepreneurial world in particular. While it would be awesome to be able to schedule weeks with more wiggle room, or less meetings, it’s realistically not going to happen any time soon. No, what my resolution is about is what happened on the weekend that followed.
You see, this week is much the same as far as deliverables, meetings and commitments go. I have about 30 hours of work to accomplish in 32 hours of scheduled work time. Not much room for uncertainty. And so, my normal inclination (read: bad habit), is to then spend the weekend eeking out every spare moment to “get ahead” on my work for the week. For me, that means using nap times (my daughter’s not mine), evenings and potentially very early mornings to try to “get ahead.” (My partner works weekends so I can’t use him for extra childcare to get these things done, so need to find it essentially whenever my daughter is asleep). I put “get ahead” in quotation marks, because the more I think about it in the abstract the more I suspect that while I believe I’m getting head with this kind of behavior, I’m not totally sure it’s true. Sure crossing things off my to-do list, puts me ahead of the deliverables game for the week, but not having any downtime at all puts me at an energy and problem solving deficit. So, if, as things always do, shit hits the fan at some point in the week, or I end up in a 1 hour meeting that lasts 2 hours, or I get an unexpected sales inquiry, etc. I’ll have very little energy to call on to react appropriately.
This learning falls, for me, into the category of extremely obvious but not very easy. When written out in plain English like this, it’s very clear to me that taking the weekend to rest, to enjoy my family, to flake out and watch a compellingly mindless period drama while knitting for 45 minutes, is in fact the best way to prepare myself and “get ahead” for the week. But, when the moment comes and I’ve put my daughter down for a nap on Saturday afternoon, I actually have to put conscious effort into reminding myself of that. And while I sit on the couch watching said period drama, I have to remind myself about 5 times over the course of the 45 minutes, that I am in fact doing the right thing. Why? I like to think of myself as a pretty smart person, and I know that I will perform better if I do this kind of self-care, however, I’ve reached a point in my life where taking the “get ahead” approach feels more normal and somehow safer to me.
The way I’ve been getting myself out of the habit is by both telling people that I’m doing this — close friends and my partner — so they can hold me accountable to some degree, and by also actually talking myself through the consequences. I’m a worst case scenario planning type person, so trying to be ahead of the game often helps me to relax, even if it cuts into my relaxation time (in some twisted and nasty way). So, to get over that tendency I actually talk myself through the worst case scenario if I don’t do my getting ahead work. At the end of my week, I look at my to do list for the next week, and my meeting schedule, and I figure out what could be dropped if it had to be. Is there a client deliverable I can let go of if things don’t go as planned? And can I deal with the fallout if that has to happen? I ask myself, if I have to call a client and cancel a meeting, or tell them that I’ll miss a milestone, will that be ok? Can I handle doing it? So far, the answer is always yes. And that’s not to say that I don’t value quality work, commitments or my clients, I absolutely do. But, I also know that my clients value me, and that if things go really sideways, then I can give them a heads up and let them know that something will be done a day or two later than expected. There are some deliverables that can’t handle that kind of push back, but frankly when it really come down to it, most can. Most due dates were created by me, and can be adjusted by me as long as everyone gets a heads up. .
I’ll admit, I’m really struggling with this. I had to look at that to do list and talk myself out of working on it no less than four times this weekend (once during each nap and after bed time). But, with the exception of responding to a few quick and easy emails, I did it. I didn’t try to get ahead (now I did have to work an extra unplanned day last week, so I’m winning some battles but not the war here).
I’d love to hear what your goals for self-care and better balance are for this year, and how you’re tackling them. I know that if I can master this one in 2012, I’ll be thrilled.