Friday, April 21, 2006

The New Math

Several years ago, when I first started doing a lot of cross-country traveling for work, I couldn't figure out why I'd fall further and further behind with each successive trip.

The unanswered e-mail and voice-mail messages would pile up by the hour. My to-do list would take on Brobdingnagian proportions. The catch-up reading I'd brought along would never see the light of day.

I was mystified.

When I wasn't traveling, I was able to get things done. All the time. Lots and lots of things. Tasks. Projects. Meetings. Calls. Correspondence. Strategic planning, even!

I had a whole system to keep me on track, and it worked beautifully. Until, of course, I had to take it on the road.

Then it fell apart entirely.

Which meant that every time I returned from a trip, I had to factor in time to get back on track—to go from absolutely drowning to just treading water and, eventually, to making progress again.

After a while, I finally figured it out.

Part of my system included daily to-do lists that I mapped out each Friday for the following week. Each day had meetings (I had lots of meetings), tasks, and reminders (like take home agenda for tomorrow's out-of-office breakfast meeting).

The problem was that I treated business trips just like regular days in the office—in between all of the extra meetings I had on the road, I expected to do everything I usually did, from tasks and projects to e-mail and phone calls. But the whole point of traveling was that it was more important to be someplace else than it was to be in my office, doing those things. That's why I'd gotten on a plane in the first place—to sit down with people I didn't get to see every day, to "touch base" and exchange ideas and build camaraderie.

And doing that was worth the time away from the day-to-day stuff.

And then (light bulb ON!) I realized that going on a business trip was kind of like going on vacation (minus the relaxation and the sometimes-exotic destinations): I just needed to plan around it. When I went on vacation, I knew that nothing was going to get done for a week (or sometimes two!).

And I knew that my first day back would be spent in catch-up mode. So that day's to-do list anticipated nothing more than that.

See how great a system it was?

Anyway, once I realized that business trips were kind of like vacations, I just dramatically adjusted my expectations of what I'd accomplish while I was away. My to-do lists for those days were transformed—no more tasks and projects, just meetings and informal visits and message triage. That's it. Anything else I got done was just gravy.

And my first-day-back to-do-list was all about getting my expense report done and slogging through all the e-mail and voice mail and interoffice mail that had piled up. No meetings at all—just catch-up stuff.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that that little insight changed my life. (My working life, that is.) I don't know why it took me so long to have that little insight (and it is little)—I'm just glad I eventually did.

Apparently, I'm still a little slow on the uptake.

Because I've finally (just now) realized that in the same way that going on a business trip is kind of like going on vacation (like egg-retrieval day is kind of like a spa day), having a chemo treatment is kind of like going on a business trip.

I should just know that, in general, I'm not going to get a lot done—even without (graphic description omitted) symptoms. Whether it's fog or fatigue or an ill timed cold (or the toxic-waste dump), it's all part of the experience. And right now, going through chemo is more important than almost anything else I have to do. So if other things [like reading the newspaper or The New Yorker, or returning phone calls (I haven't forgotten!), or sending thank-you notes (they're coming!!), or even doing my very important physical-therapy exercises] don't get done right now, I have to be OK with that.

They'll get done eventually.

I know they will.

I have this system, you see. . . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hooray! So now but relaxation on your new schedule....
it's good for you!

April 22, 2006 5:35 PM  

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