When I worked in the corporate world, invariably I would receive tasks on a short deadline, even when I had a lot of other things on my plate. They’d explain how critical and urgent my response was–there was just no way they could wait. So I’d go nuts trying to get everything done, on time, only to have my contribution gather dust on their desk long after I’d turned it in. Apparently it hadn’t been that critical or urgent after all.
I used to get really frustrated by this, because it happened fairly frequently and it was causing a lot of stress in my life. I couldn’t figure out why they were willing to overburden me when nine times out of ten, they didn’t need the response or project by the date they said they did.
One reason is that despite all the complaining, I usually met those short deadlines, so the people doing the tasking assumed I was just crying wolf. Another reason is because they know most people wait until the last minute to do it anyway, and I am no exception, so why not do it now? If the deadline is too far out, it’s not uncommon for the someone to forget about it all together.
But the big reason for short suspenses is most people are insanely impatient once they figure out what they want. This was the insight that gave my empathy a boost, because it turns out the very worst offender of impatient tasking of my time is…me.
In the weeks since I returned from BlogWorld, the direction I want to take this blogging/writing gig of mine has come into diamond focus, as my friend Robin Dickinson likes to say. I have goals, I have a clear idea of what I need to do to achieve them, and my time-lines for getting there are completely unrealistic. Unless, of course, I like being tired all the time. Based on the responses I got to my post on the value of standing still, I have a feeling I’m not alone.
Chris Guillebeau recently wrote a brilliant post where he wonders about the very existence of time management. In his words
You can’t manage time; it exists independently of any choice you make. I tend to think more about managing energy and managing projects—as for time itself, that’s another story altogether. […] Time is a jealous lover. If you mistreat it, you can start over, but you never get it back.
The idea of managing energy levels really appeals to me. Some people read that last bit about never getting time back and use it to drive themselves to greater efficiency and productivity. I see that line and think, “When are you going to just enjoy this?”
Maybe if much of your time is lost in a 9-to-5 job you could care less about, you might fee guiltyl about watching TV instead of making progress on your personal to-be list. One of the dangers of becoming an freelancer or entrepreneur is nearly everything on your list not only feels like personal progress, it feels vitally important. But does it really matter if I get to 1000 subscribers after ten months or fifteen? The answer is no–those suspenses are arbitrary at best. So why am I trying so hard?
Turns out it’s not just impatience–a lot of it is fear. When you start with a starvation mindset, it’s hard to switch to one of moderation. When you first begin a big project, you’re excited but you also feel so behind. Life feels like a race, albeit a fairly thrilling one. You worry if you let an opportunity pass you by, you’ll never get it again.
Truth is, many opportunities are the result of relationships, not luck, and those aren’t going to vaporize just because you force yourself to a slower pace. Once you get some momentum, opportunity knocks a lot more frequently than it did before.
You need to prioritize the tasks for goal accomplishment, as well as time for relaxing and socializing. Not only is it good for your mental health, but you need that time to nurture the very relationships that spurred success in the first place. (As an aside, your family probably won’t like it much if you refer to your get-togethers as “networking.” Just saying.)
As Jon Morrow once said, “Achieving greatness in blogging is the same as anything else. You have to work your butt off.” And that’s true. You do. Just not all the time, and not until you are so tired your passion becomes an opponent.
Make the choices of how you spend your time, each day, deliberate. Give yourself a bit of back talk when the short suspenses descend from your gray matter: Are you kidding me? Why the heck is that so important?
And before you do another damn thing, make sure you have an answer worth working towards.