When our carefully constructed world of work comes crashing down, follow these steps to reconstruct it
Writers are often amazed at the amount of writing I do on a daily and weekly basis. They ask how I manage to consistently stay productive. Part of it is my stage of life, part of it is discipline, and part of it is illusion. The reality is I seldom feel like I am doing enough of the right things and that I am careening through life trying to juggle five items, while I’m only capable of three. I do this as I speed on a motorcycle…in the dark…without headlights. Then I hit a metaphoric wall, and everything stops. Okay, maybe this is a bit hyperbole, but you get the point.
Hitting the wall happens to me on occasion. This time it was a combination of over-commitment, too many deadlines, excessive optimism about my productivity, family priorities, time away from the office, and a strange sickness that required me to sleep more and robbed me of my concentration. It was like a house of cards, carefully constructed and most tenuous. My house of cards imploded. Kaboom!
Here is what I do when I hit the wall:
Pause: The first thing I do is put some things on pause. Exercise is one. Reading is another. Social media is a third. All are important, but none are essential. I can put them on hold for a few days.
Scale Back: What activities can I reduce? I don’t need to listen to as many podcasts as I do. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what I’m not getting to, I merely pare back the quantity, unsubscribing from some and skipping episodes of others. I also curtail my TV watching and entertainment.
Eliminate: To make my writing life sustainable, I also look for things to eliminate. At one time I had five blogs, each with a different focus and strategy. A few years ago I stopped posting on two of them and just now stopped a third one.
Say “No”: I like to help people and don’t want to disappoint anyone. But I need to remind myself that sometimes declining requests is in my best interest or I’m of no help to anyone.
Reprioritize: If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. What is the one truly important thing in this moment? I do it and then move on.
Restore a Buffer: When new opportunities arise I try to squeeze them in. Before I know it, I’m living a life with no cushion. I need to re-establish some buffer to leave room for the unexpected – because surprises do occur.
A few months ago, I saw my wall looming. I took action to protect myself, such as scaling back the frequency of one of my newsletters, saying “no” to some new opportunities, putting one critique group on hold, and curtailing the amount of time I invested in Twitter. These were all good changes, but they were not enough. All these corrections did was delay the inevitable.
Today I am reconstructing my work and my writing life, striving for balance, sustainability, and a saner schedule. It will take time, but I will bounce back – hopefully with fewer projects and less stress.