I consider myself to be quite productive, to the point where people have asked me to share my process with them on multiple occasions throughout my career. I’m not perfect, but I subscribe to some teachings of those who are as close to perfect at this as it gets, and it has helped me to accomplish many things over shorter periods of time than the average person. The fact that I work as much as I do plays a big role in that, but what gets lost in that is the fact that I can still be highly productive when I’m working, which allows me to accomplish exponentially more than just “working a lot” can do. I probably work 25-30% more than my average peer, yet can accomplish double what most of them are capable of on their current process. The reason for this is that I have learned how to work “smart” in addition to putting in the hours I feel are necessary to achieve the goals I have set for myself. It won’t always be this way, as I won’t always be working towards something that requires this level of productivity, but until that happens I will continue with my process as it is. While I still regularly seek ways to improve my ability to get things done faster and better, I am way ahead of the average person. The reason for this is not that I’m special; it requires no special skill to work your ass off on a regular basis, nor are the countless books and seminars I’ve taken available only to me. The tools are out there for everyone who wants to accomplish these things, I just decided to make this aspect of my life and work more important than many others have, it’s really that simple.
With all that being said, there are times, albeit rare, when I simply cannot accomplish all that I want to get done. There have been a handful of occasions throughout my career and life where my workload exceeded my ability to work. I’m not talking about the normal peaks and valleys that our workloads go through over time, but those very few times when you are asked to take on more than what should be considered humanly possible. Anyone who makes it a habit to strive for excellence in their careers and lives will find themselves in these situations occasionally. For me, this happens about once every five years, and I’m in the middle of one of those stretches right now. Typically these last for a few months at most, and I’m on the home stretch of this most recent situation. It has not been easy, and I’ve fallen behind on several things that I usually have buttoned-up, but I have handled this particular stretch better than those I’ve had in the past, for a couple of reasons. One, I somewhat saw this coming and so I was as prepared as I could have been. Two, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a big light that has some very big implications for me, which helps A LOT when dealing with things that many people would throw in the towel over.
So, why am I writing an article about all of this? Well, there’s a very good chance that when this is all over, I will not remember exactly how it feels to be in this situation. I will likely downplay the amount of work I’ve had to do as well as my ability to keep everything in perspective without completely losing my shit. Many of you reading this will got through similar situations, and maybe you’ll be just a bit more prepared for it now. Chances are, I’ll be in a similar situation again, hopefully sometime in the DISTANT future, but I know that this will be one of the first things I go back and read when I feel it coming on next time. Everything feels different in the future when looking back, which is why these articles are so important to me, and it’s the reason why journalist is such a healthy and common tactic among the successful.
Being a completion-ist, one of the hardest parts of all of this has been the daily, weekly, and monthly decisions of what things will simply just have to wait. While I don’t always complete everything on my daily to-do list, as my job can cause me to be pulled in many different directions in a moment’s notice; I ALWAYS complete my weekly plan; until now. This has been the most difficult thing for me, but it has made me better at prioritizing and really taking advantage of the opportunities I have to get somewhat caught up, when they arise. It’s truly amazing how much more you can get done when you’re overly deliberate and concentrated, knowing you may not get another chance to do whatever it is you’re working on.
After about two weeks of working from the time I woke up till the time I went to sleep, I realized that I had to make an adjustment and get over the fact that I wasn’t going to be as “caught-up” as I was used to being. I had become quite an ass to those around me during those two weeks, as I viewed everything BUT my work as a distraction. Fortunately I came to my senses and changed my plans for week #3 of this process. I had a list of things that I would do, no matter what. There were items on this list from all facets of my life, personal, work, side business, kids, etc… Anything that wasn’t on this list was secondary. I also put a TON of flex time on my calendar, which sounds counter-intuitive, but is quite the contrary. Because of the situation, I had inordinate amount of people reporting directly to me. The reason my workload increased so much and things were harder to complete was that on any given day, the 2-3 situations that happen without warning related to my team tripled along with the size of my team. These are the types of situations that require immediate action or a response. We do these things in all leadership positions, but when your number of direct reports triples, the “normal” issues become all-day events.
Even after making those two major changes, I still had to deal with the fact that there were things that I used to do weekly that now had to be on a separate list of things that I would do only if I got all of my A-Priority tasks done, and handled all of the needs of my team. Anything from this list that didn’t get done would move up in priority the following week. Most of my weekly tasks became bi-weekly tasks, which I’ve gotten used to. When things go back to normal, I will keep some of them on a bi-weekly schedule, while others will go back to weekly. Some of my monthly tasks have become every-other month tasks, and I’m OK with that.
You owe it to yourself when tasked with an unreasonable situation to still take time out for yourself, even if it feels wrong. If you’re driven and passionate about what you do, it will always feel wrong at first. You have to rise above that and see the big picture. It’s no surprise that divorce and other personal problems run wild in my industry, as these are the types of situations that end in something bad for those who fail to get their priorities straight.
And trust me, if you’re wired anything like me, there will be none other than yourself who notices the change in productivity. Most people will never understand what you do anyway, and can’t pick up on the subtle changes that occur unless they are equally as productive. If you work with people who are as productive as you, you’ll likely never end up in a situation like this, as there will be others to share the load with you.