Friday, June 13, 2008

On falling behind

One of my frustrations with the time it took me to finish the menial labor (10 hours all told) was that it was putting me further and further behind. I had been on vacation just before Memorial Day. I returned to 4 days of intense planning for the following week of 9-5 training. That meant that email, tickets, phone calls and other incoming bits of information just wasn't getting much attention. And those projects I had wanted to work on? Yeah, not so much.

So yesterday, I decided enough was enough. I determined to clean out the inbox, check off the to-do list and be fresh and ready to go. And sure enough, I did it. I have only 10 or so emails in the inbox. My to-do list is up to date and I feel much less stressed and actually feel like I can accomplish something. How did I do it? By working at home. It's amazing how much time the face-to-face interruptions at work take. Sometimes I welcome them. Sometimes I initiate them, but sometimes they really are keeping me from getting work done. And then there's the phone and email. I do make every attempt to check email 2-3 times a day, but it's true that occasionally a message comes through that sends me into a half-hour tailspin. I'm trying to be more zen about these things and I think not feeling like I'm behind will help with that. When email feels like pile-on, it's hard not to get frustrated by incoming requests.

My goal for the summer: to not fall behind. What this means is scheduling appropriately, doing what my calendar tells me, and not avoiding tasks. So what I've started doing is looking at my to-do list and really assessing whether I've set due dates appropriately. It doesn't make sense to have 15 tasks due on one day, especially if 2 or 3 of those will take several hours to accomplish. I am trying to be better about spreading out the work and assessing what really needs to get done and what can honestly wait. I've also started working on whatever my calendar tells me to work on. I make appointments with myself for a reason. Now I need to keep them. I'm also working on just doing the unpleasant things. Some of these I can consider delegating and my colleagues are great support for sharing the work load when necessary. I'm also trying to anticipate the work that's coming--beginning of the semester overload--and finding a way to make sure that those who dump tasks on me at the beginning of the semester don't dump them on me all at once. It's also going to mean getting help.

I think, too, I need to recognize sooner when I'm falling behind and sequester myself sooner. It would have been much better if I could have gotten through my work in an hour instead of 5 hours. Five hours of catching up is five hours I could have spend focusing on long-term projects and goals. I need to remember that lost time the next time I'm starting to see the inbox fill up.