By Christine Carron
One of the best management interventions I ever experienced happened at a time in my corporate career when I was overloaded with work. Cross-eyed with work. Like seriously trapped in a chicken-head-off cyclone of work madness.
My boss, located on the other side of the country, realized that a Christine-implosion was imminent. She got me on a call and told me that we were going to meet again the next day and that, before then, I had to write down everything I was doing. Everything.
What? I don’t have time for that!
What resulted was a 2-page long, 10-point font Excel spreadsheet listing every responsibility I was juggling. And I will be straight with you, that spreadsheet had a little See! I told you I don’t have time for this exercise! huff attached to it.
The next day, she elegantly ignored my energetic temper tantrum and proceeded to go through the list, making assessments that varied between three basic judgements: This is important. This can be done by someone else. This is not relevant; stop doing it.
I wish I could tell you that her winnowing of my work brought immediate relief and celebration. In fact, it brought on a panic-driven mini-fit. My brain (and mouth) went, “But I have to do that. And I’ve already spent so much time on that one, plus it will take me time to transition it to someone else. And, really, never??? You never want me to do that one, like ever?”
She remained calm and firm on her directives. And slowly, ever so slowly, over the coming weeks, I was able to relax my choking grip on work that wasn’t serving our overall mission, or me for that matter. But, yeah, it took some time.
If you are struggling to get to your writing with your current work/life load, there are useful takeaways from what went down between me and my boss regarding where I was spending my time. In particular, the nifty framework she gave me for strategically streamlining responsibilities.
Let’s go back to those three judgments my boss passed:
And now, let’s turn those judgements into a punchy, action-based framework that you can use to streamline your work/life load and find more time for your writing:
The idea is that time will open in your schedule, because you are able to find enough activities that you can delegate and ditch. You can then dedicate some of that reclaimed time to your writing.
Another benefit? You will likely feel a greater sense of purpose and calm, because you are not frittering away time on activities not aligned with the impact you want to make in the world. Yay!
Now, technically, at this point I could tell myself, Done! I just handed out a useful framework to the Goodjelly community. Over and out for this week.
But, honestly, if behavioral change was guaranteed simply with delivery of alliterative three-point directives, I would not have been able to make a living as a process improvement consultant for decades.
Real behavioral change is a little more tricky. Even when the behavioral change we want to make is something that is desired: such as more time for writing.
That’s because we are human. Not machines who can be fed pithy commands (Do! Ditch! Delegate!), press enter, and (presto-snappo!) change executed!
So let’s sleuth a little deeper using former-me as the guinea pig and highlight two key dicey scenarios that, if you succumb to them, absolutely will block your ability to create more space for your writing even knowing (as you now do) the Do-Delegate-Ditch framework . . . .
I was not a happy camper when my boss asked me to create a clear list of where my time was going. But the fact is, for the Do-Delegate-Ditch tool to help you, you have to have something to apply it to, i.e., a detailed accounting of how you spend your time.
I don’t care if it is a mind map, an excel spreadsheet, or post-it notes on a wall, but the activity list needs to be out of your head where you can see it as a whole. And ideally, that list includes even the activities that you might not want to ‘fess up to, like social media surfing or mindless TV-watching.
If you are feeling panic rising at the idea of taking time to get a sense of where all your time is going (or panic about what you might see if you do do it), I feel you on that.
Just take a minute to breathe.
. . .
Now let’s be gently firm with ourselves just like my boss was gently firm with me: If you cannot find the time (and courage) to do an exercise that might create an opening for you to write more regularly, how in your current state are you going to find the time (and courage) to write more regularly?
Here’s the deal. The power move when you are overworked is actually to stop working. To be patient enough (and badass enough) to pause and assess where your time is going. This most likely is not going to be a comfortable exercise. I cannot tell you how often I received blowback from teams in crisis, when I insisted they slow down to reassess.
And, of course, it is the exact energetic blowback that I gave to my boss.
So if you are feeling like you want to call me up and tell me how there is absolutely no way you can waste time doing this exercise in light of everything you have going on . . . I really do feel you. But likely the more useful call to make is you dialing up your own inner boss (the kind one, please) and have them (a) reassure your panicked parts and (b) help you get this assessment done.
Bottom line: You have to be clear on where you are starting to know how to get to where you want to be. And if you want to get to where the Do-Delegate-Ditch framework will help you create more time in your schedule for writing, then resist your resistance to getting clear on where your time is going.
Now, if you recall, the second time former-me had a mini-meltdown with my boss was when she started passing her judgments on my activities. I was fine anytime she said, “Keep doing that one.” (I was fully embodying my workaholic, perfectionist tendencies at that point in my life.)
But I started getting all tight and twisty when she used her boss powers to tell me to have someone else take care of an activity, or to ditch an activity altogether. What can I say? I am human, hear me . . . resist change.
My boss was able to help me because she was not as invested in the status quo as I was. I mean, if I had to change what I was doing, didn’t that sort of imply I was doing something wrong in the first place? (Cue more resistance, with a splash of inner criticism. See how easy it flows?)
Not being as invested meant she could be more detached and clear-eyed in her assessments. Also, as an executive, she had a much fuller sense of the big picture than I did, as well as more experience in leading strategically rather than doing diligently.
Being a diligent doer as I was (and am) is no way a bad thing, but we also need to ensure we are diligently doing activities that serve our big picture purpose. When I got off course with my diligent doing in my corporate work, my boss helped me get back on track.
The tricky bit about being an adult and managing our lives as a whole (which includes making time for our writing) is that we do not have the luxury of having a fabulous boss to swoop in and help us get back on track. Which means, we have to cultivate our own calm, detached, strategic (and badass) inner boss.
How do you connect to your inner boss when applying the Do-Delegate-Ditch framework to your current work/life load activity list? Let’s make it easy:
And there you go. You now know how to inner-boss your way through a process that hopefully will allow you to reclaim some of your time. The next step, of course, will be to get busy writing.
The Goodjelly Prompts of the Week