Ten for Ten: Part Six – Some ideas that have helped me along the way

Photo by Eileen Pan on Unsplash

People sometimes share lists of things “they wish they had known” at an earlier age.  That is not my style but there are a number of things that I only could have learned by living the highs and lows. I offer them in the spirit that you may want to try them on and decide if they will serve you.  

I regularly take this book by Stefan Sagmeister out of the library called “Things I have learned in my life so far.”  It is a combination of maxims and graphic arts and remains an inspiration.  I particularly like: “Having guts works out for me” and “Everything I do comes back to me”.  This is the link to the maxims and here is the link to the book.  

Here are my own, up to now grouped into some themes.  I have tried to link to sources as far as I can recall them or share helpful inspiration in the same lane.  

Be generous 

Being generous with time, energy, information, compliments and the money I have, has lifted my life in immeasurable ways.  This includes sharing access to my network.  

Take risks 

If you can possibly avoid it, don’t work for jerks.  Thank you Bob Sutton. 

Inspired by a book, a colleague of mine just started a project to invite senior executives to a coffee chat. She has received a number of great insights so far.  I have also benefited from sticking my neck out and choosing to invite strangers to coffee. 

When it makes sense, go it alone.  After my dad died I took a daunting and ultimately magical trip to Japan. I wasn’t happy to be going alone and often questioned the wisdom of the decision but it worked out.  

Look for the light

Most things work out.  During a particularly anxiety ridden time in my life, I decided to track whether my worries materialized, and they almost never did.  And if they did come to pass, it was never to the extent that I had feared.  I have also leaned on the question: “Am I ok right now?” in moments of extreme difficulty to good effect.

Years of terrible, and often debilitating insomnia have helped me reframe white nights as found time for the lift of an incredible range of audiobooks, meditation practices and podcasts.

Assume that your problem has already been solved (at least in part) by someone else who can give you a leg up in advancing a solution

Play the long game:  Someone recently introduced me to this quote from one of Hemingway’s books:  “How did you go bankrupt? Slowly and then quickly.”  In a more positive light, I think this also works for success.

Assume that there is enough to go around.

Pause and reflect

There are many strong alternatives to panicking.  I worked in a higher stress job for a while and realized how unhelpful it was to panic – it does not lead to good decision-making, it causes others to panic and makes others lose confidence that you can work things out.  There are many good alternatives:  taking a deep breath or five, pulling out the chocolate stash, returning to something that has made you laugh and thinking about whether this will matter in 10 months or 10 years.

Some days are slow motion days and these can also be gifts to your soul.  Maybe you didn’t sleep well or are grieving but the recovery time will be crucial to your next act.  

Remember when everything you have now was everything you wanted

When confronted by small irritations that interrupt my day like a dropped cup of coffee or a forgotten item at the store, I try to say to myself “May this be the worst thing that happens today”.

Sometimes the best response to distressing news is to take a “news fast.” I credit Andrew Weil with this one.  Consider if tuning out the news for a while might do you well.  I have learned that you will learn about most things that are really important no matter what.  

Would it be worth it to buy your way out of this jam?

This part of the list is clearly written from a place of privilege so will I start with that admission. 

If you can afford it, buy two.  Hat tip to David Suzuki who I recall said something to this effect: If there is something useful in your life that you can never quite have on deck at the right time (that T-shirt that finally works is always in the wash, your yoga mat is always at the office, reading glasses are wherever they are hiding), if you can afford it, buy two. 

Think about what you can outsource.  During covid, save one (thank you fridge), every single one of my major appliances broke. As an example of the kinds of things I learned could be easily out-sourced, I was able to have laundry picked up and returned, cleaned and folded for a reasonable price.  

August bits

Aïda Muluneh 

I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the Textile Museum in Toronto. On display now, some beautiful Inuit wall hangings and some great photos created in northern Ethiopia.

How Covid did away with the sick day: another article about the growing stupidity of “working through it” (since it’s ok to keep working if you are sick if you take naps at lunch?). I am still a work in progress and let’s just say that I am working on it.  I had a pretty bad migraine recently and two people asked me after a video call if I was ok – I was not ok and need to do better at jumping off to manage my pain.   

A graphic depiction of an important point about how women’s work and contributions to craft are hidden and devalued. 

California’s acting Surgeon General opens about living with being bipolar

Why no one wants to be a middle manager anymore: a good piece about navigating the new demands of managing a virtual team.  I have to say that I don’t feel like I am thriving as a manager and have an upcoming piece coming out about why even I as an introvert and looking forward to a bit more in-office time. 

Why cultural intelligence (CQ) is an important type of intelligence.

I love reading about solving a puzzle, especially when amateurs best the FBI.  

Lateness is a pet peeve of mine but I have been trying to really understand what is at play when folks are chronically late and recently reviewed a coaching concept that we work with – whether you live more “in time” or “through time”.   But since covid has given us more control over our time, punctuality is more of a thing now and so at least for now, there is nothing fashionable about being late.  The categories of suggestions (aligned to personality traits) are on the money and include: “people-pleaser,” “anxiety” and “procrastinator.”

The best article that I read this month – Stop Ghosting and Start Saying No. In this context, “ghosting” is about not following up after saying you’ll do something in a professional context.  The gist of the advice is to stop over-committing.  What I’d add to this advice: offer a self-serve option (I often offer this link to my blog which contains the best bits of my brain on how to break into the federal government), and offer other leads that may have time to help (or, stop being the saviour).  

Great podcast on how to survive a silent retreat.  

Very much looking forward to the chat at our leadership book club on the Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. This is an approach to leadership where we think less about profits and finite goals and more about legacy.  It really aligned well with my interests in abundance thinking and servant leadership.  

Listened to this audiobook of interviews that Malcolm Gladwell did with Paul Simon and enjoyed immersing myself in Simon’s music again.  [I think that this one is only available in audiobook.]  

I adore the podcast called “Cool Tools” and their related products.  I recently made a submission to their “What’s in my NOW?” newsletter.   Readers choose, three physical, two digital and one invisible thing that hold meaning for them.  

The School of Life nails it again: Why we must have done bad to be good:

“…those who feel that they are very good, who consider their record as spotless and their actions as blameless, can end up exhibiting a rigidity and sternness of heart that may veer into self-righteousness and a distinct sort of cruelty.”

A great poem – The Construction Project by Maya Stein:

“Why not hire a professional? would be the logical question, but then I’d miss the quizzical look I got from the hardware store clerk when I made theatrical gestures with my hands to mimic a mailbox post being installed…”

And a second great poem called “Old man eating alone in a Chinese Restaurant” by Billy Collins: 

“So glad I waited all these decades to record how hot and 

sour the hot and sour soup is here at Chang’s this afternoon

and how cold the Chinese beer in a frosted glass.”

Guests arrived and I made these carnitas which I have been making for years.

July Bits

Quite a long list which may require a few sittings to enjoy.  This is a testament to my own enjoyment of these long days. 

Overhead portraits of street vendors

Photographer Spends Hours on Bridges to Capture Colorful Overhead Portraits of Street Vendors

Infographic on what constitutes a real book

TGbooks042infographic

Which you can complement with Better than life  which features The Reader’s Bill of Rights which includes the right not to read, the right to read anywhere and the right to abandon books.  

Bomb Shelter  is a really lovely book of essays. It starts with Philpott’s son’s first epileptic episode which is as jarring as you’d expect, but it does get onto a more even keel.  May appeal to folks getting ready to launch kids off to college or uni.  

My mum continues to churn out segments of her memoir as Presbycan Devotionals.  Loved this one called Truck Tires on a Beach

Turning writing into thoughts sharpens reasoning – thank you Adam Grant. 

My good friend made a great podcast on the ice ships of WWII.  

Portraits of South Korea’s female divers made me want to lean into strength in my older years. 

Fascinating article about unlocking the mysteries of human hibernation

Powerful read about my abandoned profession of law: Professionalism as a racial construct

The History of my Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory.  A book I loved which might be tricky to recommend.  It sits at the intersection of a memoir of the lived experience of a person with a disability with some history of science. 

It really is the history of his shoes by the way – I got great insight into how vulnerable it would feel to live with only one pair of shoes that fit properly and don’t hurt or make the legs buckle, carefully preserved over decades. The book seems to be out of print but the library helped me out. 

Sobering and heart wrenching but important  –  suicide prevention campain features last photos of people before they committed suicice.  

Gmorning and Gnight: Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a small book of morning and evening “pep talks”.  I liked the tone and the approach but some might find it too saccharin.  Things like “Good job making a day out of all available ingredients.” Might be a nice gift for a new graduate.  

I finished this page-a-day study about intuitive eating: Intuitive eating for every day.  That said, I also just listened to Anti-diet on audio and I think it melted my brain – what an incredible book. 

The Witches are Coming – Lindy West:  Excellent and brave writing.    

A poem on joint custody as abundance

“…But let me say, I was taken

back and forth on Sundays and it was not easy

but I was loved each place. And so I have

two brains now. Two entirely different brains.”

Never Simple:  A fascinating memoir though quite harrowing at points (flashbacks to Mommy Dearest  – my parents let me read anything at any age and I still hadn’t learned the lesson of skipping the intense bits so it left a bit of an imprint).  If you have pulled yourself through life in an unconventional situation or are doing eldercare for someone with a mental illness (in this case a mother with borderline personality), you may find this book interesting or even consoling. 

Raising children is not an individual social responsibility it is a social one:  A highlight of the month:  

“American life isn’t actually working for the majority of us. Capitalism runs on scarcity, encourages the resource hoarding that doesn’t actually leave us happy or fulfilled. Care promotes abundance, spiritually and emotionally. The most valuable things in our lives—connection, love, being seen and accepted just as we are — can never be quantified and they can never run out. “

Why design matters: conversations with the world’s most creative people:  This is such an excellent compendium of interviews and photos from Debbie Millman’s Podcast “Design Matters”. I was engrossed and loved being introduced to so many incredible creators. My only beef is that this book deserves a wider audience than will be drawn to a $75.00 coffee table book which you can’t take to bed.

A thoughtful piece on development aid: Is it useful to teach people to fish or should you just give theme the damn fish already?

I love reading about the OED: From Aardvark to Woke: Inside the Oxford English Dictionary.  My dad and I both enjoyed The Professor and the Madman about the history of the OED.  

Why women volunteer for tasks that don’t lead to promotions:  This one caused me to wince – this is all me.  “Management needs to find ways to distribute tasks more equitably. Rather than asking for volunteers or asking women to volunteer because they are likely to say yes, managers could consider rotating assignments across employees, for example.”

Stories I might regret telling you: Quite enjoyed Wainwright herself reading this audio book – not an easy listen by any means though.  She has lived the rock and roll life including being given coke for a wedding present and (light details on) a difficult divorce that ultimately hit her worse than the death of her mother Kate. 

I laughed because it is me:

A cartoon by Caitlin Cass. #NewYorkerCartoons

Found inspiration for some cooking including this zucchini loaf (enjoyed the joke that if you don’t lock your cars, people may leave zucchini in them). 

And always enjoy these cosmic cookies despite the “trip to the bulk aisle” ingredient list. 

Ten for Ten – Part 5: Laugh

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

A bit ago, I wrote a piece about grief and work and titled it Saturday’s child.  I have been industrious since an early age and when I entered the work world, I thought that it had to be a place devoid of emotions except the controlled and on-purpose ones.  Kind words at retirements, that kind of thing.  

All work and no play was an approach supported by more than a few – an ex-boss of mine once laid into a group of us for chuckling about something silly (grumpy cat?) during a tense time and said “Are you laughing or working?”.  We felt duly scolded but our productivity didn’t shoot up when we stopped laughing.  If anything, we had gotten a lift of energy from a tiny break to goof around for a bit.  

Then I had the good fortune to work with some very funny people.  They got all their work done and still managed to crack jokes that lifted the day.   Public service life is often tense and hard work is the norm but tiny respites are such a balm. 

Turns out, humour in the workplace increases psychological safety and increases creativity though it’s not a straight path to effective humour.  Women may hurt their credibility with humour it can be a minefield –  certain types of humour may backfire.  

That said, I have invested in bringing more laughter into my life at work and at home and more so since suffering some significant losses in my life.  

In the spirit of humour lighting our lives, I have generated a list of things that have made me laugh over the last many years.  It’s not nearly a complete list – I loved the list of “Tips for Russian Travellers” in Harpers’ in 1992 – things like: If you find a VCR on the street, stuff it in your suitcase. Do not laugh. It can happen – but a decent smattering of things that have lifted me.

  1. Hyperbole and a half – a hilarious graphic memoir for dog owners/lovers and people who like silly.  
  2. Bossypants – Tina Fey’s memoir – not just funny but also has some good leadership lessons – my review was one of the first things I wrote for the blog.  
  3. The annual comedy wildlife photography winners. Here are the ones from 2021
  4. The annual advertising festival winners.  Here is one about imagining if Carribeans took life as seriously as the rest of the world and this excel gum ad about returning to normal
  5. Many things by David Sedaris including his performance at Carnegie Hall.  
  6. The travel writing of Bill Bryson – I  especially liked “A walk in the woods”
  7. David Rakoff’s writing including Half Empty
  8. Samantha Irby’s first book – We are never meeting in real life
  9. Fran Leibowitz.  She hasn’t written a book in a long time but I still find her very funny.  
  10. Though made decades apart, the movies Booksmart and This is Spinal Tap
  11. Stand up including Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, Marc Maron, Wanda Sykes, John Mulaney, Tig Notaro, Hannah Gadsby.  
  12. New Yorker Cartoons – I hope, now and forever. 

Ten for Ten: Part 4 – Some sources of inspiration

Photo by Kristian Strand on Unsplash

In this latest article celebrating ten years of my blog, I am sharing some of my sources of inspiration from other regular bloggers and newsletter writers. For some, I want to have a cup of coffee in hand to jump in and review every line and for others, some weeks are more of interest than others. Here are some of the ones I have found most enriching.

Swiss Miss – a regular newsletter mostly about design. Her link packs have inspired mine.

Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter – a writer who draws. The newsletter features things he is reading, listening to, watching and creating.  I pay for the upgrade to get it more regularly.

The Do Lectures – a newsletter affiliated with an annual series of lectures that happen in Wales each year with do-ers. The newsletter has a great selection of things to read, watch and think about. 

Culture Study – fine writing on difficult topics.  I pay for the upgrade though don’t often have time to access the perks including interesting threads on discord. The best thing I have read this month was on this site – Raising children is not a personal responsibility, it is a social one.

Raptitude: Getting better at being human – thoughtful writing.  I pay for the upgrade on Patreon. Sample lovely post – Cynicism is Boring.

The Pocket Newsletter – Pocket is where I save articles for distraction free reading.  They send me a wonderful newsletter with other articles.

The School of Life: Helping you to live a resilient and fulfilled life – Started by Alain de Botton, this is a treasure trove of resources on being a better person. Though the site includes, books, classes and even access to therapy, I have most enjoyed the articles and videos. Sample offering: Finding the courage to be ourselves.

For long form articles, both Longreads.com and The Sunday Long Read are excellent.

Ten for Ten: Part 3 – You too should have a blog

Here are some of my top reasons why you too should write a blog:

Creating and maintaining a blog is fairly straightforward technically – I have said it before, you are smarter than you think.

1. You can make a decent looking blog for free – I use the free version of wordpress and there are many great templates to choose from.  A few years ago, I switched to a different template and easily converted over two hundred pieces to the new format.

2. If you keep it simple, it won’t take very long to set up a blog. It took me a couple of hours at most and much of that time was likely due to setting up a search function and a sign up button which are not crucial.

3. Many of your existing skills are transferrable to creating a blog. Blogs are basically a word-processing tool with a few more bells and whistles.

4. If you want a blog and don’t want to create it, pay someone to do it for you after feeding them inspiration from blogs you like.

Blogging will improve your writing and is helpful for archiving.

4. It is a great way to keep an archive of articles you have read and written that are important to you.  For my most popular blog posts, it is a lot easier to send a link than to try to find that email where you explained that thing a while ago.  

5. Your pieces (or even the entire blog) can be edited or deleted easily if they no longer please or interest you.  

6. Blogs are a chance to tune up your writing skills and deepen your learning.  When I bite off a topic and think I have lots to say, I inevitably get stalled on an element I have to think through or research more fully. 

Blogging is freeing but takes courage

6. If you work in a bureaucracy like I do, it is satisfying and frankly refreshing to be allowed to publish something that goes from your fingers to the page and out.  I know you may also be terrified. Keep reading.

7. Blogging is worth the terror because of the eventual reward of deepening your thinking and perhaps even connecting with other people.  If you are used to having your work reviewed and never being put in front of a public audience, pushing things to a blog can be daunting.  But, if you flub something and take a position that is too strong etc., like much of life, it is a mistake that can be corrected – see #5.  

Blogs are a balm for introverts

10. Discussing having a blog will kill at least a few minutes of the dreaded small talk.

11. The blog has supported me to make some wonderful connections including writing a piece for Merge Gupta-Sunderji in the early days about why your employees won’t give you feedback, and getting the chance to interview Dan Dubeau about volunteer management. 

12. Keeping a blog can be a helpful way to establish your track record and credibility in a particular domain.

Your contribution, even if small, is still a contribution

13. I have had friends tell me (though not shed of all kindness) that my wrap up posts make them feel inadequate. To which I say: Lots of bloggers make me feel in adequate – enter Seth Godin who blogs every.single.day. And anyway, comparison is the thief of joy. If you are trying to reach specific marketing goals, your aspirations may need to be more lofty but if you just want to try this on, do your blog your own way. No need to write original content – curation of the internet is a gift. And no need to blog on a regular schedule – show up when you can.

14. Having lived through covid, I think the joy of hearing from diverse voices is even more potent. And if it doesn’t work out, again see #5.

Ten for Ten: Part 2 – Learning and instincts

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The blog is ten years old and I am doing ten short pieces to celebrate.  

Here are six books that have helped me be a better manager.  They have changed my thinking about being a manager and the person I want to be in the world. 

I have had a few fellow managers scoff at using books and articles to learn the trade preferring to rely on instinct.  I think that there is room for both ways of thinking. I like hearing other perspectives and approaches which help me refine what I need to do in any given situation. Though I have listed particular favourites here, I will read anything by Dan Pink, Adam Grant and Chip and Dan Heath.

“Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink

The TL/DR is that motivation comes down to three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

One of the main findings – when you link monetary rewards to performance it only works well with rudimentary tasks.  Performance actually gets worse with pay incentives with tasks involving analytical skills.

Here are two videos which explain his main ideas for those of you who may not have time to read the book:

Animated explainer of Drive

TED talk

***

“Difficult Conversations” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen

I own multiple copies of this one and use it to prepare for most difficult conversations. 

The book makes the point that each conversation is really three different conversations: the “what happened” conversation (where we tend to spend all of our time to our detriment), the “identity” conversation – what is the effect of the problem on each person’s identity? and the feelings conversation. The book also has a number of tools to support difficult conversations including to enter conversations as “learning” conversations.

Related books that have also been helpful:

Thanks for the feedback

Crucial conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High

Crucial confrontations: Tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations and bad behaviour

Fierce Conversations

***

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck

The classic about the growth versus fixed mindset.  I first encountered these concepts in Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman and they were transformative to me as a new manager because it helped me understand that we are not born to be managers and leaders but rather have to learn this craft. The more we think we are innate leaders, the more difficult things will be when the going gets rocky.  I explored these concepts a bit more in this blog post: People grow if you think people can change

***

“Made to Stick: Why some ideas die and others survive” by Chip and Dan Heath

I return to the principles of this book again and again when I am trying to write a presentation.  The authors’ website has lots of helpful material to extrapolate the ideas in the book including support for elevator pitches and making your teaching stick. I love everything these authors have written. 

***

“Give and Take: Why helping others drives our success” by Adam Grant

I am a big fan of Adam Grant and hands down my favourite book is “Give and Take: Why helping others drives our success” which affirmed my own desire to be a “giver” in the work world.  I wrote a blog piece about the book

***

“The Progress Principle Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work” by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

I really appreciated the findings of this book – engagement is linked to making progress on meaningful work.   I wrote a short review of this book on the blog.

June Bits

Portrait by Amy Sherald – http://www.amysherald.com/

Some things I appreciated this past month.

Management related bits

How to help an employee that struggles with time management

I came out as non-binary at work: This is what made me feel safe

Great poetry 

Praise song for the day

Moving and sometimes chilling poem:  37 Common Characteristi(x)s of a Displaced Indian with a Learning Disability

“he spells phonetically, his teachers do not realize it is a pow-wow song”

Podcasts 

How to run for office without being an A**hole

How to dress with confidence

Good reads

By the author of “Praise Song for the Day,” “The Light of the World,” a memoir of the sudden death of Elizabeth Alexander’s husband Ficre Ghebreyesus.

Every good boy does fine  – a concert pianist writes a memoir. Quite enjoyable on audiobook where you get snippets of music as well.

Finding Me – this book is worth its buzz – very evocative of “I know why the caged bird sings.”

When Women Invented Television 

A fascinating book about the pivotal role that women had in the early years of television.

Aside from the then dark haired Betty White, the other names early female powerhouses in television are not likely known to you.  These women wrote, produced and acted in their own shows in the early days of television.  Much of the evidence of the work they did is lost to history – so much admiration for the author who dug through various archives to piece this together. 

Here are some details quoted from another review:

“Irma Phillips created daytime serials featuring female dominated casts. Gertrude Berg turned her radio show into a Jewish family comedy that spawned a play, a musical, an advice column, a line of house dresses, and other products. Hazel Scott, already a renowned musician, was the first African American to host a national evening variety program. Betty White became a daytime talk show fan favorite and one of the first women to produce, write, and star in her own show.”

Creativity – This short book is by none other than John Cleese got to me at the right time. Using examples from his own writing life, he links creativity and practice like letting your subconscious chew on things.

My mom wrote a great devotional about self-forgiveness.

Internet hilarity 

Someone asks twitter for advice on how to separate two nested bowls.

Ten for Ten: Part 1 – Celebrating Ten Years of “Letter to a New Manager” – Favourite Posts

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

My blog is ten years old this year so I am taking a break from writing longer pieces and writing ten short pieces in celebration. 

First up:

My top five favourite pieces I have written for the blog. 

1) We always need good people – my comprehensive set of tips for getting a job in the Federal Government.  Apolitical.co also published a more general version here called How to land a job in government.  It’s my top favorite because I share it so often.  

2) My piece for apolitical.co on grief and work because I don’t think we talk about grief enough in a work setting.  Also published on apolitical.co.

3) What I learned about being a good employee from watching reality television.  Also on apolitical.co.

4) From a series on the blog on reviewing written work when I took a sabbatical one year and delved into the discipline of editing to up my skills: Opposition is true friendship.

5) There is enough to go around – a piece on avoiding scarcity thinking.   More recently I have re-written this piece for apolitical.co.

I have too much work – Part 4: Boundaries and deciding whether to walk away

Photo by liu yi on Unsplash

  • The problem: You are drowning in work and don’t have enough team members to get it all done.
  • Why it matters: Your strong work ethic isn’t enough to help when you just have too much to do. You need some deliberate strategies for a re-set.
  • The solution: In the concluding part of this series, we’ll explore how to practise taking pauses before accepting more work, learn the art of saying no, and explore when it may be time to leave.

This last article in my series for apolitical.co is about trying to protect your commitment to your core work after you have finished your analysis as well as a reminder that, unfortunately, not every situation can be saved.

*********************

Before you take on more, practise taking a pause

To protect your gains on confirming your core work, you may have to give yourself permission to pause and not give an immediate answer to requests to add more work to the pile. 

This may be a shift from your regular, quick-fire ‘on it’ approach to your work and you may have to signal that you are changing your ways. Specifically, you may need to say something along the lines of, “I know I normally come back to you really quickly, but I need a bit more time on this one to sort out how it fits with other things we have on our plates.”

Useful pauses come in many forms, including the request to come back with a response/assessment on something later in the day or week. You can also honour the request while asking for more time to ponder:

  • “That’s a great idea – I’d like to take it back to the team to see how we can make it happen.”
  • “I agree that that could be useful. I’d like to confer with my colleagues to see how to get what you are looking for.”
  • Or simply – “Let me come back to you on that.”

If you really can’t buy a few hours or days, you most certainly can buy a few seconds – at a minimum, you are sending the signal that this ask is worthy of some focused deliberation. 

Consider if you can say no to more work

More boldly, you may need to try to start saying ‘no’ to additional work. Many years ago a coach suggested that I read the book The Power of a Positive No by William Ury and I refer back to my notes often. We often avoid saying no when we need to by being accommodating (a victim of success), or we say no poorly by attacking. Maybe your ‘no’ won’t be accepted and you’ll need a plan but Ury suggests that you try a ‘positive no’.

A positive no has three components – a yes, a no and a yes. 

You say yes to a value that is important to you – “I want to do a good job on this”, “We have committed to honouring Ali’s extended leave to care for his dad after his heart surgery.”

A positive no has three components – a yes, a no and a yes. 

This is followed by a ‘no’ or a ‘not right now’ with politeness, a reliance on facts and explanation of shared interests. 

And then ends with another yes on what you can deliver: “We think we can deliver the outline for Friday,” or “We can give the raw material to Laaraib’s group to give them a leg up, etc.” 

Not every situation can be saved

You may have been in the trenches diligently trying many of the strategies from this series and more and be no closer to your goal of being on top of things. It may be time to depart as elegantly as you can. Maybe the work culture is one where long days, late nights and weekend work is part of the mix. Maybe you could pull this off at one point but now you have a small kid, an ill parent or are managing your own health issues. 

I return to this article on The Guardian many times a year about the top five regrets of the dying to ground me about what matters in the long term. Of the five regrets on the list, a few may resonate if you are sitting with the go/no go decision:

The most common regret of all: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

As well as, for men especially: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” including missing children’s youth and a partner’s companionship. 

If you need to depart, feel confident that the efforts you made most likely improved the situation and your successor will inherit a better situation than you did. 

This is the last in a four-part series (here is the apolitical landing page) about strategies to help you if you are drowning in work and short-staffed. With luck, you found something within it to support you in your particular situation.

Here are the other parts re-posted to this blog:

Introduction

Part One: Diagnose why you are here and buckle down for the journey

Part Two: Assess capacity and decide if you need to re-set

Part Three: Asking for help and seeking out additional tools