Juggling, Triage and Honesty

If there’s anything I know about, it’s juggling many balls in my life.  Between being a Mom, working and volunteering, I often have so much on my plate, things risk falling off the edge and getting lost in the shuffle all the time.   This has always been an issue for me, because I like to be involved and engaged with other people.  And I have always felt horrible about myself on some levels,  because my intentions to get things done have always exceeded my ability to do so.

Once I found out that part of my problem was due to ADHD, I could put things in perspective.  This didn’t excuse me over-promising myself, but it helped me recognizing when I was doing it and learn to say no a little more often.  I stopped beating myself up for taking on too much, for being enthusiastic about so many things, and instead, just tried to narrow my focus and give myself a break and allow short cuts when necessary.

For example, it is probably just fine to buy store bought cupcakes for a school party rather than insist on making them myself all the time.  I’m no longer convinced I’ll fail my parenting tests or get kicked off the parenting olympiad team.  No one has yet shown up with gold medals or rewards beyond hugs and thank yous, and I’m not convinced that these occasional “hacks” significantly damage my children, and they save on my therapy bills.  (Like I have time for therapy.)

Likewise, I probably don’t have to knit every new baby in our social circle a blanket or a hat.  I could write a check. I could buy a gift.  I still do knit in the evenings, mostly because it’s therapy and  the results do fit into that “I care” category which is really important to me.

This means constantly having to triage the importance of different tasks.  What is adding value to myself and others, and what is creating busy work?  When am I becoming a “messianic control freak”- someone who thinks no one can do it as well as they can, so therefore, everyone NEEDS my help, a compulsive volunteer on a quest to improve others lives but not my own?   What am I getting out of various things, and when am I just mucking up the works?

But what I’ve also realized is ultimately, the world doesn’t care about excuses and “I wanted to” or “I intended to, but just ran out of time.”.  It only cares about actions.  Your friends care about you, but they want to see and interact with you.  So does your family.  Work also wants to see some tangible results- you need to deliver, not just promise to deliver and never follow through.

And if you end up developing a reputation as someone who promises a lot but never delivers, well, that’s simply not good.  You end up being the person people shake their head about, saying “He’s a great guy and all, but when it comes right down to it, nothing ever gets accomplished.  He said he’d do it, but I can’t count on him, he’s always got too much going on and he can’t seem to execute when I need him to.”

A long time ago, when I worked as a legal secretary before law school, I tried to treat each client in our firm like they were our only client.  This worked well in the days before the fax machine, and we still had to wait for mail and even Fedex took a day or two.  Now between fax and email alone, the speed of business and communication has increased exponentially; we are all connected all the time, so the expectations of you delivering “all the time” have increased accordingly.  Meeting the standard of “You are the only person I care about” is harder than ever.

What I’ve opted to do instead is to go for the “underpromise and over-deliver”, a bit like the New Orleans concept of lagnappe.  It’s the something extra that makes you remarkable and memorable.   It’s the equivalent of the mint on the pillowcase- the small touch that makes something special and puts it above ordinary.

In order to do this, it means being honest and transparent like never before.  It means telling people what’s happening, and if there is a delay in delivering, why that is.  It means being willing to say no.  It means being honest, even if you’re worried about hurting someone else’s feelings.  But that sure is better than leaving them disappointed, angry, confused and let down, that’s for sure.

I hate coming to the conclusion that I can’t count on someone doing their share.  Whether it’s checking up on my kids to see if they “really” cleaned their rooms, or team members who said they’d do something, but you suspect it’s going to be one of the items falling off their plate.

And I hate being the person who lets other people down. I would rather hear an honest “I can’t get to that” than go around assuming it’s taken care of when it’s not. Keeping people on the hook while you figure out your life is unfair and selfish. You are consuming their time and emotional energy, wondering whether or not you will execute, when you know in your heart of hearts you won’t deliver.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions, after all.

My goal is to try to refocus my projects, keep to the underpromise/over deliver mantra, and look for where my value-add is.  I can only change me, not the world at large.  It’s not about what I say to others, it’s about what I do.  If I say I am going to do something, then people have to be able to take that to the bank as 100% reliable.  And I have the same basic expectation of others.

You need to put “verbs into your sentences” as Dr. Phil is fond of saying, do rather than intend, and then you’ll have something to show for it in the end.

What do you think?  Is this an unreasonable standard? Are we measured by our intentions or our actions?  Does it matter?

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