What gives? Lessons learned from running out of time

The past two weeks have been insane:

  • One of my clients had a major publishing deadline
  • My parents were visiting for a week
  • My house was in disarray from kitchen remodelling and from an emergency bathroom replumb
  • I had some commitments (I had agreed to months ago) at a place I volunteer at
  • I was doing some “under the hood” work on my blog and my brand

Even at the best of times I like to stay busy but when all of these things came together in a single weekend, I discovered my capacity limit… and I had to stop doing some things in order to do other things. For example, I barely tweeted, I stopped blogging altogether, and my administrative paperwork piled up.

Now that those things have passed, I’ve had time to catch up on the things I’ve let lapse, but I’ve also learned something about running out of time.

There are tasks that are important to you when you’re in your “normal” state and they become less of a priority when you are in your “busy” state.

I guess it’s like the stuff we own: If you asked me what objects in my house are important to me, I might list several — for example: I’m a book collector so I have a lot of beloved books; I have an antique roll-top desk that my parents gave me so that is pretty special; my laptop is essential to my livelihood so that’s important to me too. But if my house were burning and I couldn’t possibly save all of those things, what would I save? My priorities between my “normal” state and my “house on fire” state are, of course, very different.

Unfortunately, you don’t always know what your “busy” state priorities are when you are in your “normal” state. I love to blog and I love to tweet (and I can tolerate the administrative stuff) but I dropped those tasks when life got busy. That’s an important piece of data to me. It reveals my perceived value of those tasks, and of the tasks that I retained during my “busy” state.

Having discovered what I keep and what I discard during my “busy” state, I can now go back and revisit what I do with a new perspective: I ask myself these four questions:

  • What tasks did I retain during my busy time that offered no benefit?
  • What tasks did I retain during my busy time that offered a lot of benefit?
  • What tasks did I drop during my busy time that I barely noticed were no longer being performed?
  • What tasks did I drop during my busy time that I did notice the loss?

For example, I know that my administrative tasks can survive a week if I ignore them. My blog, however, is pretty important to my business and my readership diminished as my blogging diminished. I think you probably could have guessed both of those outcomes. My use of Twitter, though, is something I personally enjoy, even though it adds little value to my business (in that I don’t necessarily use Twitter as a business tool but just as an ongoing commentary on my life).

When your life gets busy, you will drop stuff. It’s inevitable. What you drop depends on you. But don’t just pick stuff up when the busyness slows down. Take note of what you’ve dropped and think about what it means and what you can do about it. For example, knowing how important my blog is to me, I should be writing several “just in case” blog posts to keep in draft form.

Here are a few ideas to help you think about what this means for you:

  • Think about the benefit to your business of keeping something going. Is there an immediate or a long-term benefit? If it’s an immediate benefit, make sure that you build in a cushion for those situations when life gets in the way.
  • If it is a critical task — one that cannot be ignored even at your busiest times — delegate it. Or, at the very least, train someone to do it just in case.
  • Break your habits and get creative. There could be a simple solution that allows you to complete the critical task. For example, I’ve started to use my WordPress app on my Blackberry to be able to blog while I’m on the go.

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