Why Am I Drowning?

I’m relatively bright, people generally like me, and I’m usually on top of my game, but every night when I go to sleep, I have the same recurring thought – I didn’t get my stuff done today. I had the best intentions of being busy and productive, but something seemed to derail me.

I haven’t talked or blogged about it publicly, but more and more, I’m feeling like I’m not doing enough or, worse, not focused on the right things as opposed to busy work. Yeah, I’m busy. I’m just not sure if I’m effective. 

Not sure if you feel this way, but sometimes I feel like a firefighter going from fire to fire. Or, in my case, Zoom call to Zoom call. 

It wasn’t always like this; 100 years ago, I taught a class on time management. Yes, you read that correctly. I literally taught early-stage career folks how to manage their time during a given week. The model was simple but brutal. On Sunday night, you would envision everything you needed to accomplish that particular week and then account for each hour in the workweek. So imagine your calendar in 60-minute blocks. At the end of the week, you would review what worked what didn’t and make adjustments for the next week. This process would go on for a few months until you had a handle on being both offensive and defensive with your time. 

But it gets more brutal. After one mastered the 60-minute blocks model, I would ask them to do the same thing but in 30-minute blocks for the entire week. Again, against the backdrop of what needed to be accomplished, what should your workweek look like in 30-minute blocks to reach your goals. Like with the 60-minute blocks, one would reflect on what worked and didn’t work, etc. The idea is that folks would start to get more granular on the tasks that led to the outcomes they cared about. Reflection on the week and how planned versus actual played out was critical to adequately forecasting time.

But wait, there’s more! After the 30-minute blocks exercise that would last for a few months, then I’d change things up and ask my students to do the same thing but in 15-minute blocks for the entire workweek. Yes, you read that correctly. Imagine your whole Google/Outlook calendar for the week in 15-minute blocks. This was created to get the students to imagine the minutia that blindsides us. By hyper-focusing on the little things, one, in theory, could reach the outcomes they cared about. This was as hard as eating a dozen raw eggs, but they did it. It took at least six months to master, but they all did it. 

Years later, I receive notes from my students about how I helped them understand time – what’s essential and non-essential. I love those notes, as I’m glad I positively impacted their lives. But I failed them because I focused exclusively on work and not work + personal + wellness. If I were designing that program again, I would do some of the things I did before, but mostly I’d open it up to factoring in the other critical parts of our lives – personal & wellness. 

Now back to me and my dilemma, I think most of my problem is that I overthink things that ordinary people accept as normal. I lean towards analysis paralysis. The truth is, I’m not drowning at all. I feel like I’m drowning because that’s what motivates me to get up the next day and fight on. I’ve created a false sense of over worrying about stuff that actually doesn’t matter to accomplish my goals. It’s great to have self-awareness, but I’m failing to think more significantly than just work like my time management class. To not drown, I need to be thinking of work, personal and wellness integration, not segregation. 

I’m going to start afresh tomorrow with a new attitude. I’m not drowning, but I’m also not swimming as best I can. Game on.