We’ve all been there. High workloads, low staffing, low energy, low resources, multiple fires to put out, and a backlog of things which need to be attended to. This is the chaos which sometimes comes with the territory of the startup world, or for any young project.
Here’s a counterintuitive truth I’m learning: the more chaos I face, the more important it is that I stick to a rigid schedule, and that I stick to it with real discipline.
The immediate temptation when chaos hits is to act chaotically, striking back at whatever is most urgent and trying to keep the chaos at bay. Trusting a schedule in these times is a leap of faith. It’s not entirely clear how keeping to a schedule will help you get through the chaos any faster. Will good planning really help when you’ve got a crisis on your hands?
It actually does.
The most important skills you can have when dealing with more than you can handle are precisely the things which tend to keep you out of chaos in the first place: prioritization and consistency. Lacking these, you’ll be a panicked animal.
Do what you need to be doing at the time you need to be doing – you tend to know what that really is if you’re being honest – and you’ll have nothing to worry about. If you set time to work on emails from 5-6, show up and answer emails from 5 to 6. It doesn’t matter if you do a perfect job or a subpar one. By showing up and showing up regularly, you have entered your body into a training loop which will 1) make it better equipped to handle emails well and 2) regulate how your body responds to this part of your chaotic workload.
In this way, consistency and priority are slow but sure antidotes to chaos. They move slower than your mind may want to go, but then again, they slow your mind to just the right pace it needs to actually fix problems.
If you keep true to that, it matters far less that your other to-dos are waiting. If you’re consistently meeting your other obligations by schedule, you leave little doubt that you’ll finish the rest.
There are a million other variables I can be thinking about – other things which need to be addressed, those fires over there, what other people have asked of me – but if I focus in on what’s right in front of me, I can actually make progress toward clarity over chaos.
To paraphrase someone wiser than me, don’t worry about the next hour. The next hour has its own challenges, and it will worry about itself. While you’re answering those emails or finishing that project or even making breakfast, be there mentally. You’re on schedule, after all.