Featured image depicting The parable of the virtual worker, the back-to-back meetings, and the mountain of incompletions

The parable of the virtual worker, the back-to-back meetings, and the mountain of incompletions

Shifting to the intentional creates space for surprise and productivity.

By Dan McAlpine  |  May 7, 2020

As a consultant, I like to focus on the context  I’m dealing with, and if you can shift something positively in how the day/ work occurs for you – i.e. creating space – the actions tend to ‘fall out’ naturally from that new context. During COVID’s new normal, I have been seeing my days differently and being really intentional on them being productive and complete.

There once was a worker whose primary tool was his brain, their workday was governed by something called ‘The Outlook Calendar’. This calendar was a thing of beauty – multiple displays, multiple colors, multiple options – where this worker could store all of their promises, to themself and to others. Truly a powerful place to maintain integrity in delivering results for the business.

And yet. And yet. They kept getting less and less productive as each day progressed, always slipping ‘behind’, trying to ‘catch up’, feeling anxious that something will ‘fall through the cracks’.

What they didn’t know about was the ‘Mountain of Incompletions’ and the ‘Tyranny of the Back-to-Back Meetings’ and how much they affected them.

Incompletions are the main source of frustration, anxiety, worry. Unconsciously our virtual worker was adding to the ‘Mountain of Incompletions’ during every meeting – actions promised, actions not promised (but should have), suggestions offered, suggestions not offered; thoughts that passed through their head and returned again later, and again later and again later; interruptions from the household, the how-abouts, what-ifs, should’ves, etc., etc., etc. – very little of which they put into existence during the meeting. They thought, “I’ll handle that at the end of the meeting, before the next one starts,” but what’s this?

This meeting finishes at the same time the next one starts, and so does the next one and the next one and the one after that. “I’ll handle it at the end of the day,” they think and then they’ve forgotten half of what happened in the morning, and then the family, the self-care, the food, the getting rest, the news. “I’ll do it in the morning”… And repeat.

The moral of the story: We work with our brains and our brains need as much support as anything else, if not more. Please make the promises (meetings and actions.) you have in ‘The Outlook Calendar’ reflect how the day ALWAYS goes, and create space between meetings for handling and processing. If you don’t have anything to handle and process in this space, feel free to pull something else forward from later in the day, giving you the experience of being ‘ahead of the day’.

When our worker took this on, they quickly became calmer, more centered, and more able to respond. As a result, the Mountain of Incompletions and the burden that came with it was reduced. Joy.

The journey of joyful work continues…An epilogue

Our valiant worker had started to create space between meetings by asking others to adjust their meeting requests, and adjusting the requests they made of others. They were adding more of the things that make a difference to their day – taking ground on something important BEFORE processing email at the start of the day, focusing on the critical. They were starting to build the muscle of ‘making my calendar work for me’ and experiencing daily accomplishment.

And with anything worthwhile, they found some discipline was needed to avoid the ‘Lure of the Instant Gratification’ – being the expert all day, being able to say how busy they were, not pushing back when pushing back was needed, being on more Teams’ teams than anyone else.

Determined to avoid falling back into a previous time – the ‘Tyranny of the Back-to-Back Meetings’ and the ‘Mountain of Incompletions, they resolved to end each day with the next one set up to be a win for themself and those counting on them. When they got good at this, they started looking beyond the next day to the following days. Rewarding.

Wishing you days ahead that are joyful AND rewarding.

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