Thursday, April 25, 2013

Baskets, balls and boxes - What's urgent? What's important?

A few years ago, I decided to work on mono-tasking.  An erroneous belief about efficiency and self worth often tries to lure me into a frenzied pace.  I can juggle many balls.  Nothing will drop.  The problem with this idea (aside from impending nervous breakdown) is that the quality of what I do can drop, others don't get to carry some of the balls that I'm struggling to carry, and the people around me learn that Faith carrying many balls (and baskets and boxes) is normal.

I remember being in a session with a life coach a few years ago and after looking at my constrained time resources in contrast to my seemingly limitless set of demands.  He said "Send out an email telling .... that you aren't available to accept calls between 10 am and 3 pm." I never did.  I continued to struggle until I stopped taking the calls.  I decided people would figure I couldn't talk to them if I didn't answer the phone.  Still, it took me years to just tell them I wasn't available.

I simplified my day, had chunks of time assigned to the major issues I wanted to attend to, and all was well.  I wasn't rigid, and could switch comfortably to deal with the urgent, important things that arose, but I had a good balance of what I'd do when.  Then, as Jaedon started to demand more attention, and I started to respond them on the fly "Oh my god! Don't drink the water from the fish tank!", my days started to get screwy, haphazard, disorganized and I was again wiped out by the end of the day, not sure what I got done, but exhausted nonetheless. 

I became good at reacting, moving from interruption to interruption.  It became my habit.  Soon, a phone call, a text message, Jaedon letting birds out of the cage all blurred together.  They were all interruptions, and I responded to them all.  Of course, I would hit the breaking point "Mommy?" "WHAT?  Do you see what I'm doing right now??".

So it's about my priorities.  When I'm cooking and listening to a podcast, a higher priority task ("Mommy!") can get my attention as I monitor all my priority tasks.  After I verify the priority of the interruption and determine the level of need, I can make a choice about how to respond (turn off the stove/redirect the child).  I'm realizing that I miss this priority assessing step for many of the interruptions that come my way.  When a text message flashes up on the screen, I read it and think I can respond quickly and before I know it, I'm switching between homeschooling and a slow text conversation.

My experiment today:
  1. Decide on priority tasks for the various time chunks in the day
    • 11:30 - 2: school and food prep (only higher priority interruptions allowed, i.e. those that have to do with my family's safety and critical needs)
    • 2-3 :Travel Prep (ditto on the interruption)
    • 3-4: Travel (accepting calls)
    • 4-6: Work
    • 6-7: Anything
    • 7-8: Travel
    • etc
  2. Respond to interruptions with the priority question: Is this urgent and important right now?
How do you handle interruptions and manage your priorities?

1 comment:

  1. Faith,
    As I thought about your question, "How do you manage your priorities?", I realized that I've done my best not to, at least not in real time.

    Over time (and not by design), I've slowly minimized the number of interruptions that require a realtime priority assessment.

    At some point I realized that I best not even glance at the text message, or scan through the emails, or look at the call log, or listen to the voice mail to see if something important requires my attention. Otherwise, I find myself knee deep in something before realizing that I've put my toe in it.

    So what I've ended up doing is managing media, not priorities. There are times of day and even groups of days where I simply don't look at my email, call logs or texts. They just don't exist.

    I have two exceptions. First, I've assigned ring tones to people who understand and support my goals of staying focused and on target. So, the ring tone tells me when it's OK to look. Second, the people who might really, really need to get hold of me know how to when they do.

    So I guess that managing the media is the first thing that's worked for me without exception. Of course, there are people who've simply stopped trying to reach me, but then again, that kind of works. The ones who do are the ones for whom doing so is important, not just urgent.



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