The trick in business is to be consistent and reliable so that people trust you to deliver quality work all the time. But no one can do this all the time. Everyone hides sometimes.
I am pretty good at hiding. My specialty is doing work very fast, mostly because I am so willing to skip over details. So when I fall behind because my life is a mess, I can usually cover things up.
Tricks to covering things up at work are the same tricks you learn in sixth grade: Prepare for a test. Do the reading for the teacher you love. Everything else can wait — you can fake it and catch up later. This is how we buy ourselves time at work to deal with our messy life at home.
Your mess changes, depending where you are in life. In my early twenties my mess was usually something like staying up all night with a new boyfriend. I could fix it by calling in sick. When I had my own company my mess was when I had crises of confidence. The moments when I was scared we wouldn’t get the next round of funding, I hid in conferences rooms and at long lunches so my employees wouldn’t see me worried.
These days my mess is usually my kids. I am fortunate to have a job with loose demands, so disappearing when I have a kid problem typically went unnoticed. Until I started blogging.
With a blog, everyone can tell when you’re not there. And this week, I went four days without a post, which is an obvious sign that things in my life are not running smoothly.
Not that I wasn’t at my computer. I had time to read the statistics about how often you should post and what time of the day. And I had time to obsessively track my Technorati statistics and notice the unfortunate truth that if you don’t post, no one links to you.
Robert Scoble says not to blog when things aren’t going well. I wish I could find this link. But I can’t. So just trust me. He says it. And he is probably right because our mood does affect the way to write. But how can I tell people how to get through a messy spot if I am not struggling to do it myself?
I will now contradict Scoble and say that the first thing about having a personal mess infect your workplace is to come clean. No one wants to hear the sordid details of your life. But by the same token, people need to hear something to explain your inconsistency — otherwise they think you don’t even realize you have a problem.
Here’s my deal: I messed up the school situation for my son when we moved to Madison. I made some bad choices, I didn’t monitor things well. This would be time consuming enough, but I am also taking time to lay guilt trips on myself, and the more creative you are with laying guilt on yourself, the more time it sucks up.
So how do I get out of a mess? First I pretend I am explaining to someone how I got in this mess. If I look at it from an outsider’s perspective I can usually see how to get out. It’s so much easier to see our problems through someone else’s eyes.
Then I go through my to do list, which is always a mess when my life is a mess. I find the number-one item on the list and do it. Last night that item was to deal with my agent. (Sample email: “Will you just write the fcking paragraph and send it to me!”) Today, it’s blogging. (Sample email: “Sweetie. I didn’t get anything this week. Did your blog feed thingy break? Love, Mom”)
The bottom line is that when your life gets messy and you fall behind at work, the only way to dig yourself out is to sit down at your desk and stop looking at the big picture — that your personal mess created a work mess. Sit down at your desk and figure out what needs to get done, and do what is the number one priority. Then do number two. And so on.
Chop wood. Carry water. Post to the blog.