I missed a back to school event for my kids last night. My wife called to ask where I was, and I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to be there. I saw it on my calendar and then it was gone from my mind.
My wife is really mad because I have blown through several commitments in the last few months. She is convinced I have an adult attention deficit disorder, but I don’t think so. I am just behind at work and cracks are beginning to show. I feel like I am just going in circles playing whack-a-mole. I might as well just whack myself on the head for all the good I am doing.
I have been stressed at work before, but this is a whole new level of crazy. Help?
Dropping the Ball
Dear Dropping the Ball,
A medical condition is a possibility, but I wonder if it isn’t more that you are overwhelmed by your commitments, the errors you are making are throwing you more off balance, and you are caught in a downward spiral.
Certainly you should look into seeing if you need real professional help. But while you are doing that, you have to stop the downward spiral. Just stop. Stop the crazy, turn the volume down on the noise, take a big step back, take a breath. I am going to give you step-by-step directions because you can’t think straight.
- Get the book The 10 Natural Laws of Time and Life Management: Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace by Hyrum Smith. Read it. It is an oldie but goodie. I am a time management method junkie and I have followed all of the gurus—but in my opinion, no one has topped Hyrum Smith. I read his book when it first came out and it honestly changed my life. Why not go to the best source for getting your head on straight about the absolute reality of the space/time continuum? You clearly have been a time optimist. This, combined with your desire to please everyone in your life, has resulted in chaos. Mr. Smith will help you cut it out.
- Once you have read the book and decided what is most important to you, make a plan. Tell your boss you’re going to take two days off, then turn off your phone and take a big step back so you can think. Go somewhere no one will bother you—your local library, perhaps—and bring markers and flip chart paper. Now make a mind map of all the critical areas of your life: your health, your relationship with your wife, your relationship with your kids, other important relationships with friends and family, your job, your career, your craft, your spiritual life, your finances, etc. As you do this, all of the tasks you have to do, commitments you have made, and things you really want to do will bubble up. Write those next to each area. Get everything out of your head onto the mind map. This will help you get some perspective and it will stop the static in your head. If you need to do two maps, one for your job and another for your personal life, so be it. Decide which items are most critical and put them on a timeline/calendar and a to-do list. Decide which items are not as critical, and decide which ones you can dump. Everything else is negotiable.
- Once you have achieved a modicum of calm and clarity, go talk to your boss about your priorities and what they see as most important. Show them your mind map or to-do list so they can see that what is being asked of you is simply not reasonable.
- Say no to any new request unless you can be absolutely certain that you can deliver. Adopt the mantra “I under-promise and over-deliver.”
- Review the tools or habits you can test out and possibly adopt—for example, starting a mindfulness practice, blocking 15 minutes every morning to make your to-do list for the day, or setting reminder alarms on your phone. All of these are habits of people with high productivity.
If this is the first time you have been this far off your game, you are probably fine. But you do need to recalibrate for the fact that your life is bigger than it has ever been—and probably gearing up to get even bigger. So step back, get a grip, and reclaim your life.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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