Organization Reflections

Choose: You Can’t Have Both


Magnolia cupcakes
Credit: flickr / onlyforward

There’s this advice that women seem to give each other, it’s “you can have it all, just not at once”. I hate it, because to me if you can’t have it all at once, you’re not really having it all. Rephrasing it, I would say, “You can’t have it all at once. So remember to prioritize the things you say you want at some point, or admit you don’t really want them”.

I’ve given up trying to say no. Instead, I say yes to something else. A pointless rephrasing, perhaps. But – we make choices all the time, I’m just trying to be honest with myself. Yes to the diet, no to the cupcake. Yes to the gym, no to a night curled up with a novel. Yes to the more stressful project, no to the long weekend away. This evening, I was torn between going to the gym, being productive on a project, and curling up with a novel. Since I went to the gym this morning (no to sleeping in) I’ve opted for a compromise – this blogpost, then my novel.

Last week I got two emails in a row from the same person. One saying no to something I’d asked them to do. The other confirming I was doing something that I’d tentatively-maybe-more-information-please suggested I might do.

I don’t think they realized or meant to do this, it was a case of being overwhelmed and going through inbox looking for quick wins.

But it wasn’t a great thing to come into on a Monday morning. As my boyfriend said, “that sums up exactly why you hate email”. And it stressed me out because I really felt that I couldn’t do both, but how to come back to someone and say that? I was worried it would come across as manipulative or petty. The thing they wanted me to do was a talk, and I don’t mind giving talks and I think it is a good thing to do. The thing I wanted done was organizing a meeting. I hate organizing meetings – it involves managing dates and email – neither of these is a strength of mine.

But, I’d agreed on a priority for this quarter. The meeting was definitely part of this priority. The talk, tangential, related, good thing, but not as much. And I really felt that I couldn’t do both. They are not the same commitment time-wise, but the stress of doing something I hate (organizing a meeting) was much higher and so to me they seem equivalent.

Anyway, I sought out some advice and explained to someone that I felt I couldn’t do both. She convinced me to do neither – someone else is organizing the meeting, and I don’t know what’s happening with the talk.

But – choices. Next month, Random Hacks of Kindness and a running/biking event are literally on the same day. Less concretely, my paper from January has been invited to be extended. As has the education paper. And there’s an awesome dataset that I’d like to work on. And my team is headed to MTV. And I want to spend more time doing cross fit and take that trip to a spa that my boyfriend and I have been talking about since December.

Some of these things will happen, not everything. It’s a problem, but it’s actually a pretty good problem to have. And so – I have to say yes to making choices. How about you?


4 replies on “Choose: You Can’t Have Both”

For my part, I define my activity regarding my roles and try to fulfill those goals during my week, with the time I have planned for them. If the tasks don’t fit, I plan them for the next weeks. I guess that you know who is at the origin of that organization scheme ;-)… Your problem is that you constantly have tight deadlines and that makes things not able to be conciliated, it seems. I think you could do everything (assuming that you really want to do them – by the way, the answer of your friend was pretty clever: do none and take time for you or to do something that you know you want to do, with no hesitation – that’s pretty wise – giving up is part of one’s development process, and can help to focus on the most important things, among the other “important” things…). Our decision schemes just do the same things, in the end: prioritizing in a way or the other, but with yours, everything seems to have a high interest/priority and the deadlines seem really often, really tight. So, I see two solutions: prioritize better (what really matters to you, really, like really 😉 – a good example would be the spa with your boyfriend, which waits for months already). The tasks that have a too tight deadline to be coped with, according to your priorities, you throw them away. The second solution is to adapt and impose the deadlines, imposing your point of view and your time constraints, when possible (we both know that you can’t delay a conference deadline just because you want to ^_^…). Thus, this way you just make the tasks waiting for you, which is also quite nice, in the end!

So it’s true – the deadlines seem tight, even when they initially not. Mostly because I take things on and so I feel booked up months in advance. I want to set a monthly challenge for “spontaneity” –  this requires a month that is not booked up already. I’m /planning/ on doing this in August. The irony of having to plan spontaneity so far in advance is not lost on me.

At work, I’m quite on top of things (I should write about my system, but it is quite GTD) – I have stopped checking email except for once a day and have a paper todo-list with my priorities on it. I get as much as I can done, and the rest waits for tomorrow – or next week. The problem is non-work. I think I can make progress on one non-work project a week, and the act of deciding which is (unfortunately) deadline-based. The deadlines are such that even when I would like to not make progress – this week I travelled, I’d like the weekend off – I still have a deadline looming and that’s not an option.

I could plan better, but that planning would really mean doing less. Saying, no I can’t write that article because I have a trip and a talk to prep, that I already committed to. I’m not good at saying no! And I’m not good at realizing – I’ll be exhausted because event + talk + trip = exhausted Cate. I plan on the basis that I only need 8 hours sleep a night and never need to do nothing, and that is not always the case.

Haven’t been reading (and commenting) for awhile. Nice to be back into the swing of things today.

I had a very similar conversation with my husband while we were visiting his family. I (as kindly as possible) pointed out to him that he was slipping into the habit of putting the most important things last on his list of priorities. I reminded him that it is very important to be careful in priortizing to make sure you aren’t putting the ‘loudest’ rather than most important priorties first.

So important to listen out for the quiet, crucial stuff.

I think the descriptor “loudest” is apt. Only checking email once a day means that I take the time in the morning to ask what I think my priority is, not what seems most important through volume of email. In order to listen, it’s important to stop reacting.

I hope your husband is taking your good advice 🙂

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