Brief Missive from the Trenches: Coping with Busyness, Business, and Change

In the past year I haven’t spent more than two months living in any one town, and usually significantly less than that. It’s been a whirlwind–parties in Portland, family in Mount Vernon, a secluded cabin in Twisp, humidity and heat in New Orleans–and before this last year on the move, I spent a year trying to establish friends, comfort, and language skills in Spain.

For the past month, I have been living in the sleepy, moldy town of Olympia, Washington, where I plan on spending the next several years (time for a break from the road), and where over just a few weeks I have experienced so much hectic change that I have been unable to consistently produce blog posts. So here is a quick note on dealing with change and coping with a busy lifestyle.

Life Slows Down and Speeds Up

When I first settled into the slow-pace of Olympia, I thought I would find myself with more free time due to the fact that my hours wouldn’t be eaten up by waiting in lines, buying tickets, hunting for places to live, and sitting on planes and trains. Once it happened, however, the added mental focus afforded by the lack of constant travel arrangements resulted in the opposite–suddenly I could put more of my energies into shopping around my writing business, and suddenly I have new opportunities coming left and right.

My first instinct was to grab ahold of them all–fill my boat to the brim. The problem is that I know from personal experience that taking on too much all at once results in reduced productivity, and my boat would sink.

Instead, I decided to focus on a few key opportunities, a number of which demand that I become more professional about how I run my business.

So I’m coping with three things: change, a busy schedule, and the need to become more business-like in my endeavors. Here’s how to do it:

  • Change

Part of me is rebelling against my sudden departure from the road life. The constant barrage of new experiences, stress (which, to some degree, has always been my ally), and motion is something that makes me feel engaged and comfortable.

Dealing with change–whether that means an alteration in lifestyle, a big move, or the loss of a job or loved one–is one of the most difficult things we face. To cope well you need to remind yourself of what you’ve lost through the change, but also what you’ve gained.

In my situation I have lost my flexibility and freedom, but gained a stronger sense of place and presence, which are both highly useful and enjoyable. In the case of something more extreme–like losing a loved one–it can be difficult to see the positive side of things, but it’s there. You lost someone you loved, but you gained perspective on their lives, what they meant to you, and what it means to be alive in the first place.

Coping with change is about embracing a new way of living and viewing the world, and when all is said and done, isn’t that one of the most exciting things about existence?

  • A busy schedule

I’ve dealt with this topic before, but to reiterate: when your schedule gets busy, you have to remind yourself that there is both more than enough time to accomplish everything, and no where near enough time to do it all.

What I mean is that really when you look at it, everything that must get done, does. At the end of the day, if there are still things left on your list, so what? You did what you could with the time that you have, and that’s all you can expect. Everything that can be accomplished within a certain period of time, will be.

This brings us to the second point–that there isn’t enough time to do it all.

Your to-do list will never be complete. Never. Until the day you die there will always be more things that seem like they must be addressed, whether that means business interests, chores around the house, or life experiences.

When you embrace the fact that there will always be more to do, the urgency is taken out of whatever it is that is most pressing in the moment, and that sense of urgency is what causes stress. It’s a fear that arises that if you don’t get through this task now, you won’t have time for the next, and so on.

Breathe, and remember that someday you’ll die and there will still be a truckload of things left undone. That might sound dismal, but it isn’t. It’s the truth.

Accept that and you’ll find it much easier to find that point in your day when it’s time to drop everything and relax.

  • Business

The latest opportunities to come my way have been extended by people who are much more professional, organized, and driven than most of the people I’ve worked with in the past. By apprehending these opportunities, I am putting myself in a position of heightened responsibility, which can be a difficult adjustment. At the same time, it’s worth the added effort due to things like financial compensation, business growth, and simple maturation.

There are a few key things I’ve realized in stepping toward a more business-like demeanor:

It’s just another costume.

I’ve been a nerd, a punk rocker, a hippie, a suave bartender, a teacher, a bum, a musician, and more. “Business personality” is no different from any of these other costumes–you put on the clothes, say the words, do the work, and people believe you. It’s often as simple as that.

Of course, I work from home, so my suit and tie is usually my bathrobe…

Be prompt in communication, understand which messages are actionable and which are not.

Never let a potential lead just sit there. Be prompt and courteous with you communications, but learn to determine which messages require responses and which don’t.

If someone sends you an email telling you to go ahead with a project, unless you have questions or they ask for confirmation that you’ve received their message, just get going and forget about the reply. At first it might seem like you’re snubbing people or like it doesn’t save that much time and effort, but when it comes to a steady torrent of emails, phone calls, and other messages, you need to pare things down wherever you can.

Be positive!

Your clients and colleagues are excited about their project, and they want to work with people who are equally enthusiastic.

Have you seen Mad Men? I assure you that no one in an ad agency is authentically excited about ketchup, but if they want to land the people from Heinz, they know damn well that they have to act the part.

Be direct and confident.

Don’t make unclear statements that leave a lot of wiggle room. If you have a position on a matter, say it, and back it up with fact.

Stop saying “I think”: “I think this would be a good way to go about this.”

Instead, be direct: “This is the best option for these three reasons.”

You’re getting paid for solutions, not feelings.

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Well, what began as a brief note stretched into 1,200 words, so it’s time for me to get back to the grind. But when I do so, I’ll go about it while being mindful of the benefits of my new situation, while reminding myself that I have time for everything but that I’ll never fit it all in, and while maintaining my business-costume.

The best thing about change–all of the lessons you learn.

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