“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
St Francis of Assisi
I’m a big fan of the early morning hours. I relish getting as much tasks as I can out of the way before noon. There is something about the first few hours of the day when you are awake that provides a huge productivity rush. For me, it tends to be the hours when I have the fewest distractions. Whose house am I going to visit or call at that hour? I have also just woken up from a good night’s rest and I am ready to tackle a difficult task.
Last week’s article was about the power of “No.” A simple word but with great power to help you take control of your schedule. Hopefully by now, you have had some practice with saying “No.” The goal is to eventually reach a level where you learn to say “yes” to opportunities and “no” to distractions.
With practice, it’s easy to know when to politely redirect your colleague’s offer for last minute help on a project they had two months to work on. Outside the workplace, however, it can become more difficult to decide which tasks to give up. Let’s examine the following list:
Take minutes of the meeting of market women’s association.
Service the generator at the orphanage
Do the book keeping for the Youth association
Read to five year olds at the library
Deliver the opening speech at your nephew’s speech and prize giving day
“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”
What do you do when someone asks you to do a task you would rather not? Picture this scenario. You are working on a project early in the morning, trying to build momentum. Someone approaches. They ask if you have five minutes. They need your help to go over a report that they have to submit later today. What do you tell them?
You have three options. The first is to say “No. Go away.” That would do the trick and you might be able to get back to work after that but it won’t win you any allies that way. The second is to say “Yes” and allow the person take control of your schedule for the rest of the morning. You know the report was supposed to have been their responsibility and you feel they shouldn’t bother you. It’s not your job to look over their report. Yet you also feel you could do a better job of it than your colleague. Maybe they need a little help after all and you know you could write a better report than them. So you check the report and it’s a mess and you end up having to rewrite parts of it. By the time you are done, you have “helped” your colleague write a report and they can turn it in just in time. Then you go back to your original task and curse the fact that since you have wasted so much time you now have to work after office hours to finish your work.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lot about what counts as an essential skill. So many workers, including people pretty high up, previously secure in their roles suddenly found themselves without jobs as more companies looked for ways to cut costs in an attempt to survive lockdown. If you are one of those who still has a job, congratulations. Others have not been as lucky.
In a world where knowledge is being generated at an outstanding rate, having the skills necessary to keep up with it is no longer the responsibility of HR departments. More and more organisations are assuming employees come equipped with certain skills and don’t bother organising training sessions on those skills. Yet how true is their assumption?
We all had great plans for 2020. We all had things we wanted to accomplish. We wrote them down and got started. Then the pandemic got in the way. A lot of our plans had to be shelved. We had to deal with the fear of a disease that no one had a cure for. We had to adjust to new ways of working. We also had to adjust our priorities. We reviewed what was most important in our lives and came to appreciate the security having a roof over your head, food to eat, healthcare and the ability to continue working from home provided.
It doesn’t always require a pandemic to disrupt our goals. However, the coronavirus pandemic provides a very good example of how activities outside our control can affect our ability to achieve our goals. At some point this year, you probably had to shelve old plans and make new ones. Even without a life changing event such as a pandemic, there will always be constraints to some of your goals. Being aware of them can help you set more meaningful goals in your life.
We have all met someone who proudly declared they work well under pressure. The sort of people who boldly put it on their CV and expect to be rewarded for it. They are most likely the sort of people who annoy colleagues to no end by submitting work five minutes to the deadline and expect to be given a round of applause for it. You may have convinced yourself being able to work under pressure is a skill. Perhaps you also believe you possess that skill. Let me burst your bubble. It is not.
Do you have some downtime this week? I’m sure if you thought more careful about how you spend your days, you could probably find 30 minutes on most days when you are not really doing anything. Do you have any unfinished tasks on your to-do list from last week? It could be an annoying task you have been putting off for a few days such as dropping off your laundry or rearranging the books on your shelf. What if you chipped away at those catch up tasks for 30 minutes each day during your downtime?
Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend. He was complaining about the expectation people have of receiving an instant reply whenever they send out a message. Although he and I laughed about it and joked about people who check whatsapp once a week, the conversation stayed in my head. My friend was making a very valid point: we feel the need to stay connected to data all the time and share the expectation that everyone else is. As a result, people expect you to reply messages as soon as they send them.
The problem with thinking that way is people get annoyed when they don’t get replies a few seconds after sending a message (especially if the app says the recipient is online). This would be funny except it has real world consequences for relationships. Everyone has a friend who is notorious for never replying messages on time. The one who fails to confirm they are available for the weekend hangout you planned and shows up at the last minute. We blame that friend for ruining our weekend plans. You all know of a couple who had a fight because one of them failed to reply a message until two hours later.
Q2 is over. This is normally the time when you’d do a midyear review of your personal development plan and celebrate your latest successes. Unfortunately, 2020 has not been a regular year for anyone. It is safe to say most people’s plans for the year have been shot. No one planned for COVID-19. You have probably had to adapt to a new way of working. You might have struggled to keep your business afloat and pay your staff. A lot of people are struggling to buy food and aren’t doing much casual shopping. Tailors lamented poor patronage during Ramadan. No one was thinking of making clothes for sallah. Everyone was just trying to survive.
How many hats are you wearing right now? If you have a job, you wear an employee hat. Perhaps you also run a side hustle that employs one or two staff, in which case you also wear a boss hat for your business. You might also be married and wear a spouse hat. If you have children, you also wear a parent hat. What other duties do you perform at home? Are you the chef, the one everyone relies on to organise events or laundry?