During times of excessive work and crisis, something has to give. Sometimes brutal prioritization is the only way to make it through those challenging times with your sanity intact.
It happens to all of us. The Universe, in its infinite wisdom, determines this month, of all months, is the month to test your mettle.
It was a busy month to start. Multiple big project deadlines, a few social events, tax season, and some home repairs, all topped off with a few trips to other cities.
Then things blew up. New projects came in. Unforeseen issues on existing projects cropped up. Email went into tsunami mode. You got a nasty stomach flu. The IRS decided to audit you. Your cat died. Your got in a car accident and won’t have your car for a few weeks due to repairs.
It becomes tough to breathe. You feel swamped. There’s no way out and there’s no way to get everything done that you need to get done – at least not without pulling all-nighters and putting your sanity at risk. What do you do?
Preserve your sanity. Get some sleep. Go into brutal prioritization mode.
When a building you’re in is on fire, what do you do? Grab the kids. Grab the dog. Depending on how the kids behaved that week, maybe you grab the dog first. Grab your irreplaceable picture of Nana and Pop. Run for safety. You just brutally prioritized. There was a crisis and you were forced to choose. Some things got burned up. But you’re safe and sound.
Give yourself permission to treat your work the same way.
What has to get done? What are the non-negotiables? What can you not drop without dire consequences? Those things go to the top of the list. IRS audit? Yeah… not much of a choice on that one. Major client project that will pay your bills for the next 6 months? Add that to the list. Going to the doctor to get medicine so you don’t dehydrate and go catatonic? Make the appointment.
What should get done? These are tasks that are important but don’t have dire consequences attached to them. The new client proposal? You’d love to get to it, but… A proper funeral for Whiskers? Um, it’s a cat. And it’s dead. I told you – this is time for brutal prioritization. I’m trying to save your life and your sanity here…
What can get done… if you have time and energy? All those emails? Yeah, they’ll be there for a while. Home repairs? Your paisley wallpaper replacement project can wait 90 days. Social events? It depends on which relative we’re talking about here… Lay out the true consequences of not getting this work done or the cost of delaying it. You’ll be surprised at how low those costs are when you compare them to the cost of the bigger items on the list let alone compare it to the cost of your sanity and physical well-being.
What won’t get done? Believe it or not, you can say no to stuff. Those “pick your brain” coffee and phone call requests you get all the time? Tell people to reach back out in a couple of months when you come up for air. Email responses to cold-call vendors? Yeah, try just deleting those. Writing a new blog post? How about recycling something old or skipping a couple of weeks? People probably won’t notice.
For Type A folks like me and you, those last couple of prioritization categories feel problematic. We have to answer every email. We need to take every call we’ve committed to. We can’t be rude and just delete things. We have to maintain our streak of on-time blog posts that we’ve held for 8 years. That’s just the “won’t” category. I’ll bet you feel as uncomfortable as I do thinking about taking that approach. The notion of putting off projects, backing out of social events, and saying “no” to people asking for help is uncomfortable.
Look at things in the “can” and “should” categories. Those are extremely difficult to put off, drop, or “mail in” with less than a perfect effort. But guess what? It won’t be your best work and it will adversely affect the important things in the “must” category. This is the brutal part of brutal prioritization.
Say “no” to things. Tell people why. Explain to them the things that have slammed you. They’ll understand. Heck, they may even offer to pitch in and help. I’ve always been encouraged when people say “let me know how I can help” and when I ask for help, they actually provide that assistance! I don’t have to do it all on my own.
Take it from a guy who’s had two heart attacks and whose 40’s have read like a nightmare saga of crises. The only way I’ve survived the stressful spikes of activities and disasters was through brutal prioritization. Sure, I’ve lost opportunities. Yes, I’ve disappointed some people. Absolutely, I’ve failed to deliver my best work. All that said, the “must” work has always gotten done at the highest level of quality. I’ve maintained and strengthened the personal relationships that matter the most to me. I’ve kept my health and sanity. I’d say those are worth the price of a few unanswered emails, missed meetings, foregone happy hours, and living with paisley wallpaper for a few extra months.
When crisis strikes, take a breath, make your list, and cut off the bottom 1/2. You’ll thank me in the long run.
Did you enjoy this post? If so, I highly encourage you to take about 30 seconds to become a regular subscriber to this blog. It’s free, fun, practical, and only a few emails a week (I promise!). SIGN UP HERE to get the thoughtLEADERS blog conveniently delivered right to your inbox!