Oasis Ahead

I've been getting this weird sensation that my brain is about to implode out of sheer compounded stress, and a couple of days of long meetings and writer's block haven't improved my mood much. In compensation, my upcoming Easter vacation has never looked so good, even if my only plans for it consist of lounging about and reading a lot.

Part of my writer's block stems from having too much on my hands at the moment - things that I am supposed to be doing, things that I was asked to do (but which are not really assignments, which places them in the Great Grey Area Of Uncertain Responsibility), and a lot of stuff that just finds its way to my desk because, quite honestly, nobody else seems to be able to act upon it.

Just to make things a bit more interesting, having to interact with several different people/departments with different viewpoints raises entropy to virtually unlimited amounts. There is absolutely nothing worse than having to re-visit topics that you had already settled upon and which form the basis of work you've been doing for a couple of days. No amount of communication skills can help you sort out the kind multi-valued fuzziness that evolves from debating some issues thirty times over.

As a result, over the last couple of weeks I've been unable to focus on each subject for enough time to make significant headway. The fact that I am also virtually alone in handling several of them (or that I cannot find the time to present and discuss things with my peers) hasn't helped - willpower and bloody-minded tenacity are the only things that keep me going right now.

So, here are my tips for surviving this sort of overload:

Getting Things To Stay Done

  • Re-visit your to-do lists frequently, and date them. Even if you can't make them stay put, you can make sure that, if an issue crops up again, you've dealt with it before, and what the outcome was. Of course, convincing other people that they had agreed to the initial fix or had dismissed the issue themselves is left as an exercise to the reader.
  • Questions can be as good as answers, provided they are identified and tracked from the very beginning - otherwise, people will keep asking them again, and again, and again, with minute variations in order to make them "their" question. Identify and dismember "pet" questions as soon as humanly possible, otherwise you will never see the end of them.
  • Do not work alone. If some issues are too complex or vast to wade through on your own, having someone else to debate them with forces you to rationalize them using the best tool for the job - your brain. Remember, teachers always learn more than their students, because they are forced to look every which way at the issues in order to explain them properly. If you're the "I can do it all" type, you're being an idiot - having someone else to work with does not lessen your ability to do things, it enhances it.
  • Make time for the right people. Get rid of Outlook and IM, switch off your mobile phone, don't take calls, don't send that "what's the status?" message during a meeting. Grab the people you need to work with, leave your desk and work someplace else so that you aren't easily interrupted. Keep well away of known disturbances.
  • Clear your calendar of unnecessary fluff. Make it plain that if people invite you for a meeting, they had better have an agenda and waste less than half an hour of your time. Leave politely if they don't. The great unsung art of time management is not scheduling and conducting meetings efficiently - it is knowing which to avoid, and anything with more than three people is it right now.
  • When you leave the office, leave it behind. Everything. The laptop, the notebook, the people, the phone calls. Make sure you have enough time to clear your mind and rest before coming back. If you want to allow for epiphanies, take a couple of files with you on a USB stick - that way, if inspiration strikes, you can do something, but not enough to burn yourself out while you're supposed to be resting.

Above all, get it out of your system. Blog about it, if you absolutely must.

Then remove half of what you've written, re-phrase things so that they are more palatable for a wider audience and make it a "Getting Things Done" post.

Then sit back and appreciate the irony of seeing your stress percolate through the net and be distilled into the same sort of self-improvement chatter that you usually dismiss out of hand.

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