Sometimes changing plans is required. Yes, it’s me here, the one always talking about routines and keeping with your habits. There is a reason for it. Exceptions are there to make the rule.
A Bad Day Turned Good
Monday, I had a rough day at work. Mostly driven by the Monday feeling together with a migraine leftover that threatened to take over at any moment. Yes, migraine again. September does not seem to be working out for me and my goal of health. But then again that was expected. And if this is the worse month in the year, then that probably makes sense. It is back to school, back to work, back to routine month. Everything needs to work but clearly not everything will.
Anyway, going back to my day. After my last meeting, I suddenly realised my migraine had disappeared. The relief that came with it got me energised for all the things I wanted to do – so I tried to do them all – why not? I did a new reward chart for Little Girl C, voted for our favourite pre-school movie for this term, updated our multi-annual accounts for ALG, calculated our consolidated funds raised for UPG, kicked off the review of comparable charity annual reports and started the reformatting of ours. Yes, all after 8.30 pm. And before 11.30 pm. That cool. (laughing like I am patting myself in the back)
Keeping My Flow
I felt so ‘at it’ that I did not want to “break my flow”. I did know the weekly blog was missing but made a deliberate choice to postpone for one day (I thought). And I also chose to compromise on my 11 pm bedtime (which never happens anyway) and then found out that even in bed my brain was still going. That’s what you get for missing your sleep cycle.
Arguably, I could have moved 1-2 things to the next day. We all know the saying ‘don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today’. I have broken apart from that saying a while back, as I found out that it was not getting me any sleep. But Monday it all fell in the right place so I ignored my recently created weekly planner. I use my journal now (as an experiment) to also give me a view of the week so I can have a sense of when I will have time to do what. And now I also try to use it to give the team a sense of it, to help with their own planning. Managing a team remotely needs better planning than when you are sitting next to someone. But back to script, if there is one.
Tuesday turned out worse (oh and Wednesday too)
When I first started writing this, I thought I would be fashionably late by 1 day. It is important to have habits but it is also important to keep with life (and sanity) so I made a choice. And it seems like I was guessing that nothing would get done Tuesday night. It turned out to be one of those few days a year that I left the office past 9 o’clock, watching out for my feet to ensure no mouse would cross my path. By the time I edit this article to finally hit print, that is 2 nights in a row. At least still no mice.
Sometimes people wonder how to manage different roles and demands, the run-up of promotion year (or not), mentoring and managing people, and that excludes everything else outside the office. Well, sometimes you kind of don’t. Yesterday was one of those days as budget and business plan season kicks in, growth plans need to be made, and everything else continues to happen.
Dealing with Overwhelm
Somehow I only skimmed through the HBR article with tips on how to deal with overwhelm. But then again overwhelm is not new to me, at home or work. So what to do?
- Prioritise: I know it is more easily said than done. And it is a mix of urgent vs important. Plus it means you actually know everything that needs to get done. Revenue numbers help prioritise, or immediacy of big internal or client meetings you have to do.
- Prioritising also means delegating what you don’t have to do. I know, the famous delegation thing. I find it hard o do amidst overwhelm I am honest with you. In execution mode it is hard for me to ask for help, so it helps if you set yourself up for it in advance
- One thing at a time: I chose to focus on getting done one large project that will be a priority for the next 9 days and involve multiple time zones. And fill any free time with shooting back answers on easy emails or responding to queries from my team.
- This does not mean procrastinating by doing non priority work. It only means using “free” time in a focused way. If you need to decompress or you are waiting for something, attack urgent things that can be done fast
- Stop the noise: For the last 24 hours I also dropped email unless I see in the pop up box that it is related to my priority project. It helped a lot today.
- Colour coding your messages from your top 5 senders that you never want to miss also helps as you can quickly spot emails that you missed the pop up
- Focus on what you HAVE done: As I woke up the next day I knew instantly all that I left behind but I have come along way from my old self and focus on what I did. It is hard. Really hard. But it is possible
- There is nothing like a good highlighter or white board to give you the feeling of satisfaction. I actually stopped the team in the middle of the afternoon today to get a few ticks into the team task list. Everyone needed that. Me included.
- Communicate: as I got another request this morning, before I was even done with the next 9 things on my list, I was very verbal (perhaps too much) in explaining that it could not get done.
- Even though my push back failed, I got extra help on doing it.
But why changing plans?
Sara, you have dealt with overwhelm before. Why change now? Doesn’t structure help?
Despite my arguably well designed plan (which rarely goes beyond 3 days anyway), I chose to shift priorities. Why?
If you read my newsletter this week, you would have noticed I added a few stats to it for the first time. One of them was my mood, which I measure 1-10 every day. Last week’s average was 5.7, which is low in comparison to any prior week I have been tracking since the beginning of the year.
Last week 2 important areas of my life were down, more than usual. My health was weak (yet again). That has a tendency to cloud my judgement, I say that in advance. But the charity was also tough. We had a resignation amidst the ramp-up go our largest event in 2 years and that was extremely energy consuming. We debated with ourselves what we can improve and what we want to change, especially as we are trying to ensure this organisation stays for the future. I questioned the value of all my contribution and how much it could hinder it more than benefit it. It hurt, quite a lot.
Strengthening my priorities
As I dedicated a good amount of the weekend to rebuild my mind and plans for the future of the charity, I also knew I had to get a set of practical achievements to get me off the inertia of just feeling sad. Sad gets me nowhere. There is nothing like ticking a few items or projects off your list to get sadness behind your back.
That is why I am so annoying with my friend Raquel to get stuff done. I wonder if she knows. I should tell her. Or maybe she will read this far. Getting stuff done is, in my experience, the best way to reduce an emotional state of sadness or unworthiness. Clean the kitchen if you have too. Anything will do.
That was my approach when this week started and it worked out well. My mood is slowly improving as I feel I can contribute to the things that matter to me. And whenever I am assaulted by a sense of failure I grab my list to remind me what I have done.
Changing Plans for the Best
Changing plans work because they are made to help you. Habits are good because they give structure and help with being intentional, assuming you chose them on the basis of your values. But they are also there to bring about your flexible self when when you need it.
Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash