You know those days.
Let’s say you have a really big presentation to prepare – maybe it’s just a 10 minute summary of a workshop for your colleagues, but in your mind you’re opening speaker at this year’s New York TED event. Or…you have an important proposal to submit, a big meeting to prepare for, a line-in-the-sand deadline to meet. Whatever the reason, it’s a Big Deal day.
You’ve had FOREVER to prepare it, but for some reason it seemed more important to completely rearrange your office/submit your tax return/binge-watch Gloriavale. (We’re not here to judge.)
But today’s the day – you’ve set aside a whole flippin’ day to sort it out. You’re going to be sweet! You’ve found your notes, bought fancy pens, downloaded your favourite focus playlist from spotify….and then something really hits the fan.
Your child is sick. Not just slightly sick, but throw-up-in-parents’-bed-more-than-twenty-times sick. Or it’s a snow day, and your once peaceful house is now filled with soggy, excitable children and pets, and a whole truckload of laundry. Or your cat sneaks a native bird in for lunch through the catflap and you spend at least an hour trying to coax the terrified, blood-spattered creature down from the curtain rail…
What to do, what to DO?? These are my top 9 tips for getting stuff done, when it’s all turned to custard:
1. TRUST THAT IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN SOMEHOW
Don’t panic! I know it’s a cliche. but it’s true. It may not be pretty or easy, and it may not end up being perfect – but believe that if something needs to get done, you will find a way.
2. RELISH THE PEAR-SHAPEDNESS OF LIFE
As someone once said, “when life gives you lemons, grab tequila and salt”. You don’t get to have snowball fights, perform bird rescues and cuddle sick children every day. Embrace the chaos. Maybe your presentation/report/meeting/blogpost will end up even better, without you over-thinking it.
3. FREE UP THE MENTAL TRAFFIC JAM
When you get a chance, spend 10 minutes scribbling out a braindump of all that’s on your mind. Sometimes when we’re under pressure, our minds are fizzing with so much information that we can’t focus. Generate a list of all that needs to happen to get THIS piece of work done and dusted. You’re not going to forget those gems – they’re saved for later on your phone/notepad and you can be fully present with whoever or whatever needs your attention right now.
4. PRIORITISE, PRIORITISE
Once you spot a window of opportunity to work, look at what you wrote down during the braindump. Prioritise everything on this project list according to urgency and importance. Is it both urgent and important? That needs to be done ASAP. Not urgent, not important? Zap that one out of your mind – that’s clearly for another day. Get the idea? Urgent + important = top priority.
5. GRAB WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY
Find a small chunk of time and throw yourself into whatever is top of your urgent and important list. Do not pass go with the non-urgent, non-important tasks. Close all other tabs and minimise distractions as much as possible while you use this precious time. If you’re pressed for time, doing 15 minutes of anything related to your project is better than nothing. It’s really impressive how much work we can do in a very short space of time, if we know that may be all we have for a while.
(And you never know, maybe the child will fall asleep, or the bird will make it’s own way out of the house while you’re not looking. We live in hope.)
6. “START SIMPLE, GET FANCY LATER”
As the wonderful Amy Porterfield says, “start simple, get fancy later”. It’s particularly useful to think this way when you’re short on time. It’s often easier to get going on work if we tell ourselves we’re just writing a “shitty first draft” (Anne Lamott). You then know you’ve broken the ice and you have a starting point to build on – there’s nothing like a completely blank slate to make you want to throw a great big procrastination party.
7. DOWNGRADE EXPECTATIONS
This is not the time to delve into every extraordinary feature offered by powerpoint. Keep it in perspective – you’re not trying to get a Nobel prize here. You just need to get this job done to the best of your ability, with the time you have available. It t doesn’t need to be perfect. Good enough is good enough. Have you heard of the Pareto principle (sometimes described as the 80/20 rule)? A large part of the result comes from 20% of the effort – which is what we create when we get started and do something.
8. RESIST THE URGE TO APOLOGISE
Some of us have a tendency to over-apologise for what doesn’t get done. Such is life. Give that presentation as if that was exactly the way you hoped it would be. Submit that proposal as if it was your very best work. My piano teacher used to say that if you make a mistake – go on as if that was exactly how things were meant to happen. People may not even notice, unless you go and draw their attention to it by apologising!
9. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DID DO, RATHER THAN WHAT YOU DIDN’T
You’re a human being, and life is filled with imperfections. Good on you for doing what you could. You gave it your best shot – now move on (but maybe next time the linen cupboard spring-clean can wait a little longer!).
Now tell us – how do you get stuff done when life throws you a curve-ball? Share your top tip in the comments below.
(And if you don’t have a top tip, we’d also love to hear about the most unforeseeable circumstance which got in your way. We really love that kind of story.)
Until next time – adios!