Posts Tagged ‘Distractions’

Thanks to a holiday week with far fewer interruptions and meetings than normal, I got completely caught up in my email inbox at work and home today.  What a wonderful, rare moment when I realized that I had no emails waiting on me in either place!  Aaaahhhhhhh………  the bliss!

Of course, that just meant that I was then free to actually get some other things done on my to-do list, but that’s OK.  That’s what I was hired to do in the first place.  Over time, it’s interesting how little tasks and responsibilities continue to add up until you hardly even recognize your real day-to-day compared to what you think it should be.

For example, as the community manager for our internal social network, I want to help plow new ground in how our communication platform is used and in the amount of use by senior leaders (who definitely are not leading in this regard).  I want additional mobile versions of the platform approved and available.  The masses need some basic education about how to use it.  There are new capabilities in the software that people need to know about and shown how to use in order to help them do their work more effectively, efficiently and collaboratively.

However, regardless of the number of big-picture initiatives I would prefer to spend time on, there is always an endless supply of little requests coming from here and there via email, phone calls, instant messages, hallway conversations, and via the platform itself.  So what do I do?  How do I balance making progress in big, long-term advancements while keeping up with the routine daily maintenance activities that will always be there?

For the past five weeks, my answer has been to carve out my mornings for the larger initiatives and then spend the rest of the day on the miscellaneous.  So far, that has worked well.  I can honestly say I’ve accomplished more in the past five weeks towards major initiatives than in the previous several months combined.  So the mornings will continue to be protected on my calendar for the foreseeable future.

Leap year lesson #186 is Find what works for you and run with it.

Since this is a holiday week in the U.S. with Independence Day on Wednesday, there is a noticeable slowdown in the number of meetings on my calendar for the week.  That’s always a welcome change from the norm of way too many meetings.  The same thing happens to the extreme for the week in between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

While many colleagues choose to take these holiday weeks off from work, I prefer to do the opposite and work during the slow times.  I get a lot more accomplished, get caught up on things that have been on the back burner for a while, and feel like it is time well spent.  Having worked near the holidays, I’m then free to escape and use my vacation days at other times of the year, even if they are very busy times for us.

I realize that not everyone will prefer my approach, and that’s their call to make.  But it works for me.

Parents of young children who have to work around the school year for vacations don’t have much flexibility on this matter.  Still, I suggest that those who have always taken off during the less busy times at work give consideration to a trial run of working those days instead.  You may just find that working with fewer distractions, fewer meetings and the possibility of greater focus bring a great deal of satisfaction.

Leap year lesson #181 is Work when others don’t.

This week I tried something new in my scheduling at work.  I blocked out all morning hours on my calendar between 7:30 and noon to work on major, newer initiatives.  There is always a much longer list of tasks to get done than can be done, but the issue that was starting to bother me was the feeling that my days were more and more dominated by the emails, calls, messages and unplanned conversations initiated by others than they were by major accomplishments I want to achieve.  The obvious problem is that allowing my schedule to be dominated by others leaves no time to get the big picture, important things done – ground that needs to be taken in order to look back at the end of the year and say “This is how I made a significant difference.”

So I turned off instant messaging, refused new meeting requests in those blocked hours, let the phone calls go to voice mail, refused to go chasing instantaneously after every shiny new email that came in as soon as it arrived, and instead jotted down a very short list of the more important things I needed to get done.  Then I spent the morning and sometimes longer making sure I made very good progress on those items before resuming my other daily activities or responding to others’ requests.

The end result?  I just completed the most productive week I’ve had at work in months.  I still have about 30 emails in my inbox to handle which I will likely take care of this weekend in front of the boob tube.  Still, ground was broken on some items that have been on the back burner for way too long, and some items on the list were checked off as complete.

My calendar at least through the end of June will show that same blocked out time daily.  I expect it to be a very productive month.

Leap year lesson #146 is Take control of your schedule.

As I reflect on this past week spent in a quiet, personal retreat at The Abbey of Gethsemani, one recurring thought is that you must occasionally go off the beaten path in order to discover real treasure. Most of my friends, family and colleagues think that going to a monastery for any length of time is not just going off the beaten path, but is a bit wacko. At least most accept it even if they think it’s weird.

Going to Gethsemani is, for me, a place off the beaten path when I can get away (mostly) from the hurried, online and offline daily life I live and concentrate on things more fundamental, more spiritual, more at the core of who I am and believe I should be.

However, even at Gethsemani, there are times when I discover more because I go off the beaten path while there. For example, when most people enter the Visitor Center, it seems the main attractions are either the gift shop or the theater with a movie repeating about the Abbey. But you have to go past those to a hallway lined with photos, plaques and various quotes to learn more of the history, life and mindset there. I spent a few hours looking at every photo and reading every word there, and the total time spent there by others while I was there was measured in just a few minutes. Most didn’t want to take the time, yet it was there that I learned so much more this trip than in the past about Gethsemani.

Likewise, while walking through the woods to “the statues,” one only discovers some gems by going off the main path. For example, there is a tree (pictured here) that separates near the ground into two separate, very tall trunks, but then reconnects into one trunk very high up. You’ll miss that if you stay on the main path.

If you live life reflectively, you can learn much regardless of the path you take, but often you will discover things that others do not by being willing to follow leap year lesson #90 – The best treasures are found off the beaten path.

I forgot what day it was yesterday. The days blend one into the next so seamlessly here at The Abbey of Gethsemani that there really is no point in knowing which day of the week it is (except Sunday when the schedule is slightly different for worship, but the abbey’s bells would warn you of that change). I can’t remember a recent time when I had no external clues to tell me what day it was – no work calendar of scheduled meetings, no regular TV shows to watch that indicated it was either “Dancing With the Stars” night or time for “Survivor,” no rattling of the trash cans to the curb for the weekly Monday pickup – nothing.

It was wonderful not knowing.

Eventually I gave in to the temptation and looked at my watch that indicated it was Wednesday. At least I then knew I hadn’t yet overstayed my welcome!

We all know that time goes quickly when we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. That happens to most of us with regularity. But when was the last time you actually were so wrapped up in what you were doing that you didn’t have a clue what day it was, nor did it matter?

I think I just had a glimpse of eternity…and it was very good.

Leap year lesson # 89 is You may find yourself when you’re lost in the present.