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Have you ever had one of those days – you know, when you are soooo busy that you’ve been running from meeting to meeting, squeezing in reading, analysis and writing to meet a deadline (or two). You’ve barely taken a break and end up eating lunch at your desk while plugging away. Of course  the day also included a few “quick” questions via e-mail, phones calls and people stopping by your desk. By quitting time you feel you’ve had it – but you take  few “minutes” more to finish up that last thing you were working on. You are fatigued!

As you finish off that last item and get ready to go you notice a few pieces of paper around your desk that you didn’t have time to  file away, as you quickly jumped from one appointment to the next all day. Maybe there are also a couple of binders open on your desk –  you had found some information you’d been looking for, but hadn’t got pulled away before actually reading it. You tell yourself that you may as well leave those binders right where they are, so in the morning (“first thing in the morning”) you can  pick up where you left off and read that information. Maybe you also notice 30 e-mails you had received during the day that you don’t really need and should delete from you inbox or at least move to an archive folder. Oh yah, there are also half a dozen mental notes you mad during the day that you intend to add to your task list. But you are wiped out, exhausted –  do you hang around for another 10 or 15 minutes to clean up all this debris, knowing that the 15 minutes will likely turn into 30 minutes given your fatigue-reduced efficiencies (not to mention potential distractions and sidetracks). Or,  do you just call it a day, crawl out the door and count on tomorrow being less manic.

Okay, and tomorrow is not less crazy – it’s another day just the same and you end the day in exhaustion with another pile of  papers and e-mails to file away and that binder still sitting open on the corner of your desk. You again walk away exhausted at the end of the day with the best intentions of cleaning up tomorrow.  And so it goes, day after day – you realize these aren’t “busier”  days, theses are the norm. Unfortunately your normal response  has been not to take the 15 minutes at the end of the day to put your workspace in order and not surprisingly that clutter ends up reducing you’re efficiency and compounding the problem!

Maybe you rationalize that things will eventually slow down, some condition which has been causing the craziness fill be alleviated. At worst you tell yourself that come the summer, things will slow down and then you will get caught up and organized again (and then you will never let it happen again). So let s do the math – how much will things have to slowdown, how much free time will you need in order to clear up the back log from the daily 15 minutes that you did not put in?

Just 15 minutes per day adds up, never mind the compounding effect of the cost of being disorganized. If you decided to clean up at the the end of the week, say by coming into the office on Saturday, you are looking at an hour and a quarter – okay, that’s manageable but add in commuting time to and from the office and you’ve probably wiped out half of your Saturday – so maybe that’s not so attractive to you and you don’t take that option. If you played catch-up once a month you are looking at 5 solid hours (at least) of reviewing papers, re-reading old e-mails and making a decision on each of those items.

If you adopt the approach of waiting for that quiet time “in summer” to get caught up for the year – well your 15 minutes per day has now accumulated to 60 hours! If you did absolutely nothing but deal with your “end-of-the-day” filing backlog you would need a week and a half. Realistically you are probably talking about 2 solid weeks, IF you could turn off the tap of your normal daily work flow – sure it might slow down but go completely away for two weeks – it is not going to happen!

At this point you are probably expecting me to deliver the big solution – but I don’t have one – not an easy, universal one. The starting point is to recognize the hole that you will be digging for yourself  by deferring a necessary daily activity. Depending on the cause you may need assistance, better processes, to become better at saying no, different office hours etc. Look for your root causes but don’t overlook the reality that a simple 10 or 15 minute activity deferred can add up to a big demoralizing efficiency-robbing, hard-to-get-out-of situation.

Have you been in this situation? Do you have any solutions to share, that worked for you?