This has come up a couple of times recently. I have a natter with someone – because they asked, come on, I don’t accost people in the street with productivity advice – and it seems to go well.
I think they get a good idea of what’s really on their plate and which of it matters to them. There’s usually a new project that they want to do and after a hour or so with me, they tend to have a plan. And most importantly, I think, that new project has turned from a nebulous, unwieldy thing that’s overwhelming them into something they can do. And will do. Talking it through invariably leaves you physically no further forward yet in every other way extremely far down the line. The intangible is at least well on its way to tanging.
What’s happened these couple of times is that armed with their own new plan and, I believe, fully enthused at what they’re going to do, they haven’t done it.
They tell me this with something approaching guilt and I feel terrible. I like people thinking of me as someone to account to if that is what helps them, I loathe it when they think I’m judging them, damning them.
So here’s the thing.
Bollocks to me and what you think I think of you. What I actually think has not changed at all: I think you had this great idea and it wasn’t working out but now you have a plan, now you know you can do it. Whether you do or not almost doesn’t matter.
I want you to do this thing: it is exciting and it’s you, only you can do this and I want to see how it turns out. But what I needed, if we’re to get all personal about this, was to help you go from this stage of it being a mountain ahead of you to your seeing the path you need to take.
I promise you that I will never think badly of you for not having started on your path yet. I’m struggling to think of a situation where I would think badly of you. Come on, it’s you. How could I think badly of you?
And here’s another thing.
That plan you came up with, that simple set of steps to get this project of yours started, it’s still there. You may have changed: your interest in it may vary, your ability to fit it in with everything else you’re doing may very well have varied, but the plan is true and you can start it any time.
Are you reassured there? Because I’d like you to be. I’d like you to feel better about not doing the things you wanted to do, I’d like you to bounce off and do them. And I would not like you to read on.
Because it would be great if you still thought I knew what I was doing – and that I was doing it. And unfortunately this prevarication has been happening to me, too. In one small and one big way.
The small is that this week I’ve fallen off the OmniFocus wagon: it’s been a week of racing around – almost literally, I’ve driven a couple of hundred miles since Monday – and more than the average number of meetings. Hang ing, lemme count this out. Say it’s been a week of short days, working just nine hours a day. Monday to this morning, that’s 36 hours. I spent 21 hours in meetings and getting on for 7 hours driving. Plus I’ve somehow watched 15 episodes of Community, but that was overnight, honest.
I feel better. I feel anoraksic for working this out and for being able to work it out, but the fact that I’ve officially had just 8 hours regular working time makes me feel a smidgeon better for not being on top of all my tasks in OmniFocus just at the moment. Hang on 2. Ulp. There are 26 tasks in my OmniFocus inbox, 43 overdue ones in my Forecast calendar. Hang on 3. Just at a quick glance, I can tell you that of those 69 tasks I’ve definitely done 38.
Blimey, you’re good for me today. I almost feel okay about the small way. Plus, I’ve only glanced now to count for you but I’ll fly through an OmniFocus review in a bit and be back on top of absolutely everything. It is a great place to be: you feel so much better when you do this.
But back to the big way. How good are you at helping me with this big one? There is a project I was first approached about around May 2013, I think. That was just a whisper of a possibility and I was in the middle of two books, so. But by at the latest August 2013, it was on. I was committed to it, I had plans, we had meetings, I’d created a shared Evernote notebook for us all and was chucking lots of research detail in there. And it’s not as if I then stopped, but I then stopped.
I will be telling you about the project when it happens – and it’s going to now, otherwise I might not be telling you even this much – but the kicker is that I dragged my feet for months and I don’t know why. It did seriously irritate the other people involved: their patience was tried and convicted.
I could point to problems we have to solve and there are things about the project that were terribly nebulous that I needed to focus on. To think about. Sometimes in the rush to be productive, I lose thinking time. It’s quite a hard thing: today I will Think About The Project.
All of this is post-rationalisation, it’s just bollocks: I dragged my feet and I failed to do the work because I was crap. Can’t find reasons, shouldn’t look for excuses. But yesterday a friend, the main other guy on the project, invited me round to his place for a mug of tea and a natter. There are other things we’re doing and have to discuss, it wasn’t anything like I was driving to my doom at the headmaster’s office. Plus I just like the guy and enjoy tea with him.
With that ahead of me, I got back on the wagon for this big thing.
I looked at what the next step I could take was. The next action that I could do before going to see him. It was a hard one for me: it was a phone call. Not just a call, a cold call. Not just a cold call, but a call to an organisation I didn’t know and could not determine who I needed to speak to. I find cold calls tough but the way I cope with them is being really clear in my head who I need to speak to, what it’s about and what my aim for the call is. This time it was all about the nebulous stuff and it was to this unknown possible person in this unknown possible department. It was going to take a good few goes to just find the right person.
Except he was the one who answered. The fella I needed picked up the phone, listened, and explained how he was the one I needed. He then un-nebuloused the idea, gave me answers that totally defined the project: we can do what we like but if we do this, we get support and if do that, we don’t. Hang on. My iPhone says I was on that call for 4’56”. By the end, I knew what I was doing.
One call got me back on the wagon. I still feel I’ve been letting down the others in this project, most specifically because I have, and I’m afraid of it happening again. Very much afraid, in fact. So as soon as we’re done here today, I’m getting on with it. Well, after I’ve driven out to a meeting about another thing.
Thanks. You’ve helped. And without my intending this to be about my taking my own advice, what I wrote up there for you about it being okay to have not started, it being fine because you can still start again whenever you like, it was very nearly okay that I hadn’t started and it is fine that I am starting again now.
Do you need tea now?