Surprise.
Productivity

Surprise.

April 20, 2022

Jan:

A week ago, the temperature hit 75 degrees. The tulips and cherry trees were blooming. I said goodbye to sweaters and socks, hello to t-shirts and flip-flops. The flannel sheets and blankets went into storage. The bedroom skylights got cranked open to let in some fresh air. Winter was over. Hallelujah! 😎

In the wee hours of Monday morning, I woke to an unusual level of light outside. "Did I oversleep? Is it time to get up?" (Nope, the clock says 4am.) "Why am I so cold? Why does the neighbor’s roof look so odd? Is that fog? Or smoke???"

I got up and went to the window. Then I went back to put on my glasses.

What the $*%*#$(*&%(*&??? 😳

About 3 inches of snow were on the ground and it was falling hard. More snow than we’ve seen all winter. ❄️❄️❄️ It continued most of the next day, followed by four more days of intermittent sleet, hail, thunderstorms, and other bizarre weather. What happened to Spring??? 😫

Soon after we moved here, we read that Oregon has 11 seasons: winter, fool's spring, second winter, spring of deception, third winter, mud season, actual spring, summer, false fall, second summer (1 week), and actual fall. This makes it very hard to plan.

By my calculations, Easter is falling somewhere between third winter and mud season — so it's a good thing I'm many decades past planning a special outfit (flowery dress, hat, white shoes). As a preacher's kid, Easter meant getting up very early for a sunrise service, followed by a pancake breakfast, the "regular" church service, and a big meal at home (ham, scalloped potatoes, asparagus, deviled eggs, the works). And there were always baskets filled with chocolate, plastic eggs, jelly beans, and a stuffed bunny. 🐰

Easter looks different these days but it's still special, especially after the challenges of the past two years. I think I'm more flexible than I was pre-pandemic. More willing to not have all the answers. More thoughtful about what this day means to me. More thankful for my blessings.

Being surprised by the weather is a minor inconvenience I can live with. I know that glorious Portland weather is just ahead. It might not look like Spring, but it's Easter. And I can always plan on that. 🌅

Susan:

Man, I had a solid plan for the past week. My to-do list was detailed, I had a list for every day and carefully blocked out time on my calendar. I prioritized critical tasks and delegated others. I wrote down goals. I strategized ways to clean out, catch up, and launch new projects. I was gonna flat out win.

Here's the first item on my list for Monday:

  • ⏰ 6:00 am: Workout (first time at the gym since covid 💪)

The Monday plan went perfectly from 12:01 am to 5:30 am. Then the alarm went off. Then I got up and saw the snow. (Seriously, WTF Mother Nature??) Then I went back to bed.

My agenda for the week went downhill from there. I literally spent every single day troubleshooting (for other people). It was a productive week (for them) — but I checked off ZERO items on my to-do list.

Here's the dilemma. Problem-solving is my favorite thing. If there's a crisis, I say "Put me in, Coach!" I thrive on finding solutions and making decisions. But being the go-to person makes it hard to plan and get things done. Consequently, since there are fewer interruptions on weekends, that feels like the best time to work on "my" stuff. And once you get on that hamster wheel, it's hard to get off.

It wasn't a complete loss. One bright spot was a call from two friends, inviting me to meet for lunch at a new-to-me brewpub. I'm decades older than them, but they called ME. It happened on a day I needed a break — and it meant a lot.

I have great friends. I live with my soulmate in a city I love. My work is fulfilling. And I have an amazing team to share the load and hold me accountable. We spent some time evaluating what's working and what's not. We shifted responsibilities and brainstormed solutions.

Yes, I will be working Saturday/Sunday. But next week, I'm starting fresh. Same to-do list, new dates. There will be interruptions and problems to solve; it's the nature of the job. But I have a plan.

Happy End-of-Mud-Season-Almost-Actual-Spring — see you at the gym at 6:00 am on Monday!

And here's the point.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley.” *
- from To a Mouse, by Robert Burns

*translation: The best laid plans of mice and men can still go wrong.

No matter how well you plan, things don't always go right. That's when you have a choice. You can give up or you can pivot and do things differently.

When you smell a newly-opened can of Play-Doh, are you transported back to childhood? This product was originally launched as "Kutol" and used to clean coal soot from walls. When gas heating got popular and sales tanked, the company could have folded. Instead, they started looking for a new revenue stream. After finding a teacher who used the product for arts and crafts, the company pivoted — and the rest is history. Play-Doh is now owned by Hasbro and distributed worldwide.

We have made a few major pivots in our business (some successful, some not). But more commonly, we're faced with small, everyday surprises that require shifting our plans and expectations. Something breaks. A contract falls through. A pandemic happens. It snows in April.

After managing the crisis/disappointment/change of plans, it's important to think about the incident and ask these questions:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What DID happen?
  3. What did we do right? What should we do the same next time?
  4. What did we do wrong? What should we do differently next time?

If we've learned anything in 20+ years of running our own businesss, we've learned that there WILL be surprises. Plans WILL shift. Circumstances WILL change. Interruptions WILL happen. Pivoting isn't always something we can plan for, but it's always something we can learn from.

Recommended planning & productivity apps

Basecamp: For managing client tasks and projects

Slack: For real-time team communications

Later: For Instagram planning and scheduling

Reflect: For networked note-taking

Additional reading

Ways To Work Less And Happily Get More Done

Falling Behind On Work? Take These Steps To Get Back On Track

How to ‘See’ Time: The Secret to Peak Entrepreneur Productivity

9 Ways To Handle Interruptions Like A Pro

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