Beware of Mission Creep

I sat down to write this post – three weeks ago. I was all prepped to start, then…

“Let’s get a run in first, Käri, you are SO much better (and smarter) after you exercise. But before you head out, take a quick peek at email. Ugh, Facebook, I don’t have time for you right now, I was just checking email before my run… SHE DID WHAT AND WENT WHERE??? And where did she get those shoes? Note to self: google Zappos. Whoops, ichat from Joe, this will only take a second… Was that my phone ringing in the other room? Same relentless 888 number that doesn’t take no answer for an answer. Note to self: search how to block callers. Hi Lucy sweetie, do you need to go outside and “go” before I go? Wait, where was I going…?”

And that was just one day. Actually, more like one hour…

Welcome to mission creep. An insidious part of our daily lives that few of us acknowledge as it’s happening, and so, it kicks our butts along with everyone else’s butts around us. Keeping us, and others, from being truly productive.

Have you ever looked at your watch and said, “how did it get to be 5 o’clock already?” Happens to me nearly everyday as I learn to navigate this new reality called, “working from home.” It’s an entirely different animal when you don’t have to be anywhere by any certain time. I give myself major props for just managing a shower before my husband gets home from work every night. Mission Creep.

For years I tried to manage each day with a “deal with things as they come” approach. I wasn’t a planner, a list-maker, a thinker a-header. I just waited for the next thing to walk through my revolving office door then went home at the end of the day realizing how many things I hadn’t gotten done.

As my responsibilities increased, the less effective this already ineffective approach became. I couldn’t keep up and instead of feeling accomplished each day I felt like I was sinking, or worse, that I was failing.

The thing is, mission creep is always going to be there. By nature, we’re curious and easily distracted, so trying to eliminate mission creep is a fruitless effort. But, you can be cognizant of its existence and put a few simple practices in place in an effort to stay ahead of it.

As I said earlier, I’m not a schedule gal, but I found even I was able to boil down daily expectations into three basic categories – the “have to’s” the “should do’s” and the “want to’s.” Each morning as I drink my coffee and eat my vegan bagel I take fifteen minutes to categorize everything I know about (including what I didn’t get to yesterday) into one of the three categories:

The “have to’s” get actual time slots assigned in my calendar – allowing for a reasonable cushion around each to accommodate for other people’s mission creep.

The “should do’s” get spread out over a week or two. I allow myself the flexibility to move them around as long as deadlines aren’t imminent, though I try not to push them out any further than two weeks so they still remain a priority (if they are a priority – be sure to ask yourself that as well – do they belong in this category?).

Then I pop in some “want to’s.” Facebook time, dinner reservations, doctor appointments, shoe shopping, travel planning – the stuff we need during the day to clear our heads so we feel organized and inspired in life as well as work. Things that refresh us prior to the next “have to’s” that are surely coming our way.

At one point I even scheduled time dedicated solely to reading and replying to email. My dad shared an old saying with me once, “A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” The problem is, in every industry nowadays, yes it does… So, if you don’t get back to people (even if it IS their emergency), if you’re constantly stretching yourself too thin, bouncing from thing to thing and not providing thoughtful feedback and direction – the people around you will suffer. As will their momentum and inevitable success.

Do yourself a solid and dedicate time to you and to YOUR success. Don’t schedule your day, organize it and prioritize it. This doesn’t need to be, nor should it be, an exhaustive process. Just put some order to the chaos so you can get back as much as you most surely plan to give. Be the master of your daily expectations versus being at the mercy of everyone else’s.

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