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.

11 replies
  1. Meaghan
    Meaghan says:

    Wow. Timely. Sorry things are a mess, but after a week spent arguing with doctors and nurses about a sick kid, and wondering how I missed major cues, I appreciate the tips to get back on track. Hope the school situation resolves.

  2. PunditMom
    PunditMom says:

    Sorry about things being messy. I hope everything works out. I feel like my life is that way all the time, tho’ I know it isn’t. You’re right — somehow I manage to get done what needs to get done at the appropriate time, but a little breathing room is nice every now and then.

  3. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    I did miss your posts but hoped you were on vacation or something fun! Sorry to hear things are tough at home. Hope you aren’t beating yourself up too bad about your kid’s school. I’m sure he’s resilient and will bounce back in no time.

    Be gentle on yourself,
    melanie

  4. Katelyn Sack
    Katelyn Sack says:

    Moving is hard, and growing up is harder.

    But with a good mom (and here I am smiling, because you are such a good advisor to your readers — I’m sure you are a wonderful mother), all is possible.

    Thank you for posting. Best wishes for you and your son.

  5. Dylan Tweney
    Dylan Tweney says:

    The great thing about RSS news readers is that they are patient. If you don’t post for a few days, no big deal. As soon as you post something you show up in my Bloglines feeds again, and I go read what you have to say.

    The blog life is far more tolerant of the occasional vacation than many people think. Sure, no one links to you (and you aren’t making any money on ads) when you’re not blogging. But your audience will come back if you don’t disappear for too long.

  6. Bill Hanover
    Bill Hanover says:

    Hi Penelope & Friends,

    It’s terribly cliche, but, I really like the idea that “life is not a snapshot…it’s a motion picture.”

    We all have a “gag reel” and wish we could make a “deleted scenes” file and hide it away. But then again, that’s probably what we have most in common when you get right down to it.

    The camera is still rolling and we all expect to see great things from PT!

    Now excuse me while I go retrieve my butter lover’s popcorn from the microwave. There’s not much time before the next scene starts, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

    Now don’t sweat the small stuff friends; somehow we’ll all make it just fine.

    All the Best!

    Bill

  7. Sheamus
    Sheamus says:

    Hi Penelope!

    Chin up! No one is perfect, life’s a journey and a tad messy at times, all perfectly normal.

    So you posted a little less frequently, no big deal. I keep checking every day and enjoy discovering what’s new when it’s there.

    I was a single parent for a few years when my children were younger, great experience and way real, and the facts are that kids (and their parents) have challenges from time to time.

    And, based on my experience and that of my eight (now grown) children, everything turned out peachy!

  8. Dale Harris
    Dale Harris says:

    Hi Penny,

    When it hits the fan, past experience is a great determinant of how things will turn out.

    Based on your articles, you’ve been through lots of slingfests and seem to be doing fine. I know it may not seem that way now, but I’d guess that your crisis is almost over – or well on the way to being solved – by now. It’s part of who you are to solve problems promptly, even while worrying about them.

    My philosophy after 6 kids is that as long as they are potty trained and have stopped wetting the bed by the time they go off to college, then I have done a somewhat okay job. Remember, kids are a longitudinal study, not a cross-sectional one:)

    Peace,
    Dale

  9. tamar
    tamar says:

    I didn’t even notice the blogging hiatus, which doesn’t mean I didn’t care. I was dealing w my own messes;-) Why is it that your most “confessional” posts, the ones where I feel closest to you and to humanity, are precisely those in which you reveal “flaws” — the parts we cover up yet are just the secrets that keep us feeling lousy? Thanks for letting go and sharing. Helps you, me, and all your commenters and lurkers!

  10. Gordon
    Gordon says:

    Amen, been there and it’s not pretty but you have the essence of the recovery , step by step, focus on each hour / day / week depending on your time line, progress is good in any direction, as it is easy to change direction if you are moving..take care lass..be safe and be happy..admire your honesty..

    slainte
    Gordon

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