This week is the one-year anniversary of the week that I became so overwhelmed with my workload that I started to act like a crazy person.
It happened slowly at first. I was taking care of my kids half-time and writing my syndicated column half-time.
Then I added my Boston Globe column, which required reporting. I had no idea how to be a reporter, so I did way more work that I needed to, trying to find my way.
Then I added my blog. I found that I could handle it by getting a little more honest with myself and cutting out all the time-wasters of my life, like phone calls I didn’t want, magazines that added no value, and household chores that we could pay someone to do.
Then my blog traffic doubled and I started publicity for my book and it was no longer an issue of time management. I was totally overwhelmed. That’s when I started to do a few crazy things:
1. I stopped sleeping. For some reason, I was able to go for about three months on three hours of sleep a night and tons of caffeine during the day.
2. I stopped changing clothes regularly. If you know you are not really going to sleep, you don’t bother putting on pajamas. And once you get up after so little sleep, you are too tired to think about a new outfit.
3. I stopped thinking about the future. I had clear plans outlined for my book publicity, but other than that, I had to churn out a column three times a week, and blog posts the other days of the week, and I was thinking only about sixteen hours ahead of myself at any given time.
I think I might have gone on like that for more than three months, but I realized I was not being a good parent. I didn’t sign up for indoor soccer in time. I didn’t know which babysitter was showing up when and often told the kids the wrong thing. And I had no patience for the kids when they did regular kid things, like fill their boots with snow.
So I went to bed. And I changed clothes. And I signed up for soccer. And I even drove my son there and watched him play.
I found the time I needed by deciding which parts of my job to stop doing.
I remember reading that the job of a CEO is to know what to blow off. That makes sense to me. I already had a sense of how to ignore details. I had been practicing that for a while, and though I sometimes got into trouble with it – like when I misquoted my brother -I am mostly good at it. But I had to take things farther.
Here are examples of essential things I ignored in the last year:
1. I ignored search engine optimization for my blog. I stopped looking at how many people came to my blog from Google searches because it’s a very low number and it upsets me.
2. I squandered an invitation from Guy Kawasaki. He offered me the opportunity to write a test on his blog about how to tell if you are a good job hunter. What a great opportunity, right? That was so nice of him. And he even gave me suggestions on how to do it. I never did it.
3. People asked to see videos of me speaking, but since I hadn’t actually launched a speaking career yet, I didn’t have a video. I didn’t make one.
Those three things could easily have been twenty. But what I want you to know is that it was okay. Nothing terrible happened. Maybe Guy Kawasaki would have been my best friend if I had pulled together a test, but he did write about me anyway. And maybe my speaking fee would be $25,000 per speech if I had gone to Hollywood and really outdid myself on a video. But really, I have tons of speaking gigs right now anyway. And my search engine optimization sucks. Still. But I finally have time to deal with SEO now.
I have spent a year learning what I can ignore and what I can’t. And I have learned that I when it comes to work, I can ignore just about anything.
Because what you ignore changes your job, but it doesn’t undermine your job. You define what your job by what you focus on. If we focus on everything, our job is nothing. I dumped things that are essential to some jobs. But just by virtue of the fact that I dumped a task, I declared it nonessential to my job. When you have too much on your plate, and everything seems essential, decide on a job change. Right there.
You don’t need to job hop in order to change jobs. You don’t need permission. You can just change the emphasis on your to do list, and thus decide what you want your job to be about. You will be surprised at how many things are on your list because you decided they were important, and not someone else. Which means, of course, that you can dump them.
And in this way, I redefine my job every day, by how I will spend my time. And I like that. Because I am sleeping well and eating well and being both the mom and the writer I want to be. For the most part. Which is probably all we can ask for.