Looking Left—Ellen’s Challenge

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Before anyone classifies us as writing politically in this space, let me tell you why I’ve titled this week’s post “Looking Left”. First of all, I’m left-handed, and this week’s post is about me. Second, my challenge this week is found in the fact that I’m a Lowest C in the AcuMax Index hard-wiring survey. When you see the Lowest C on the graph, it appears all the way to the left. See? That wasn’t political—just my attempt at clever!

Following our own advice can be a challenge for us as much as it is for our clients. We like to think we practice what we preach most of the time, but weeks like this past one make it clear…we all have room to grow.

Changing schedules and moving things around is not stressful for me. As I mentioned, I am a Lowest C in the AcuMax Index hard-wiring survey, which means I adapt to change (heck, I often CAUSE the change) without losing productivity. It’s true that I have more “SQUIRREL!” moments than I would like, but I try to use it to my advantage as much as possible. I can be very flexible and fluid with managing deadlines and fitting in projects, and work extremely well under pressure. But it has its downsides as well.

Being a Lowest C also means I don’t follow tasks in sequence with great focus very well. One of the ways I have learned to manage this reality is by creating a calendar. I schedule consistent tasks of great importance to me for first thing in the morning, when I am least likely to get distracted and go off the rails. Days when I’m facilitating a workshop or working with a client one-on-one, it’s very easy to maintain a schedule. Days when I’ve got wide open time, it’s a much bigger challenge.

One thing I’ve found to work well for me is scheduling tight blocks of time (30-60 minutes only) for accomplishing specific tasks. I use a Pomodoro timer, and off I go. The timer appeals to my procrastinator nature of almost needing the pressure of meeting a deadline to be really productive. Organizing key tasks into specific time blocks forces me to focus and think more strategically about time management.

This process has been working well for a while now, and early mornings have been dedicated to writing, whether it’s for this blog, social media, or client work. Since I am also a morning person, it seems to be the best time of day for me to consistently produce content. My family and farm schedule has fit in very nicely, and I’ve been humming along for several months. Well, Dani’s schedule changed dramatically this week, and she’s been supporting off-shift work at a variety of crazy hours with very little consistency. This has interfered with my whole rhythm and flow, and last week, things came off the rails because of it.

A critical part of planning effectively is figuring out what to do when sh*t happens. Life throws you a curve ball, and all of the sudden, your neatly planned schedule designed to keep you from bouncing all over the place accomplishing very little is thrown into flux. How do you respond? How do you get back on the rails?

In the spirit of providing some concrete tools for you to tackle these things with gusto here in the New Year, here is the outline of a process which can be very effective for finding your way back on track.

  1. Make a clear statement of the problem or challenge you face. The more specific you can be, the more likely it is you can find a solution.
  2. What are all the possible causes? If we know why a problem or challenge is occurring, we are much more likely to be able to find a solid solution. This is a “green light” process—no wrong answers, no analyzing, just make the list. No matter how whacky it might seem when it comes into your head, if an idea appears there, write it down.
  3. What are all the possible solutions? Another “green light” process—no wrong answers, just brainstorming. List all possibilities, even the ones which seem crazy.
  4. What is the best solution? Now you can judge. Evaluate each possible solution you came up with, and measure it against how many causes from Step 2 are solved by it. When you hit on the best solution, you’ll know it.
  5. How does this translate to action? It might be pretty obvious, or you might have to dig a little to figure it out. Either way, if you’ve spotted the best solution, there is most certainly an action plan to go with it which will get you where you need to go. If you’re like me, create the action plan with your calendar handy so it actually gets done, and doesn’t just sit on a list somewhere as a really good idea.

This process provides a little distance between our emotions about a problem or challenge, and finding the best solution. It allows for more objective evaluation of what’s going on and how to fix it. Try it out and let me know if it helps you get back on track next time you’ve wandered. I’ve gotta go now…I need to follow it myself to make sure I don’t lose another week of writing!

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