A vastly underrated skill in my life is the ability to look at a situation as it changes, determine what matters, and shift course accordingly. My wife used to marvel at how I could see our landlord walking down the meadow from his house and go into mess management, stacking things and piling things and making the house as presentable as possible in thirty seconds. The point wasn't to actually CLEAN the house; that is a different skill. The point was to hide the baby diapers drying around the woodstove, clean up the mess of mail on the side counter and line up the boots to make a good first impression when he walked in the door.
I was once in a meeting for a non-profit I worked for in which we were asked to brainstorm what we could do to adjust to increasing pressures and expectations. Everyone else said that they could work longer, harder, multitask, leverage technology, etc. I was the only person who said I would audit my priorities and make sure I got the important things done and not sweat the rest. That didn't go over well, and not surprisingly, I didn't last long there.
This fall has been a bout of surprises, with my carefully calibrated time getting pinched in one way or another by accidents, illnesses and overreaching. This came to a head the other day when I was at the grove scything the meadow that I drive my truck on to get to the different staging areas for when I harvest trees and balsam greens.
I started off mowing everything nicely, really doing a thorough job. After several days of this I was feeling more pressure so I started mowing faster and more sloppily. Then I realized I didn't have time enough to do even that so I started just batting down the goldenrod and woody stuff. Then I hit a big patch of goldenrod as the sun was setting and the kids (who had been playing with the dogs in field) were getting cold. I realized I could stop and come back to it tomorrow, OR (and this is what I did) I could just walk around and cut all the woody stuff and let the grass and goldenrod go uncut.
Messy? Yes. Not the world's finest job? You bet. Get the job done? To the extent that was needed. The point was, I had more important things to spend my time on. By boiling the task down to what actually mattered I was able to keep myself on track and keep up momentum, even as the ground shifted under my feet.
This level of triage is something we apply all the time in our lives. And I would guess that more often than not, when we find ourselves overwhelmed or overworked, it is from a lack of exercising this principle. At any moment, we need to be asking ourselves, "what is the most important use of this time?" Because at the end of the day, our time is all we have.
Bend your standards. Make your effort count. Triage your life.
And oh yeah, you can now sign up for my blog! There's a button on the homepage of my website. Not that I know how to make use of that feature yet. But I know I sure like the convenience of the one blog I follow showing up in my inbox. So I'm gonna figure out how to do that for you, too.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.