Tag Archive: planning

Me and The Syllabi Syndrome (too much too fast)

The Syllabi Syndrome is the overwhelming experience of being presented all your work in a short period of time. Maybe like me you experienced this in college. It’s the first week of classes and each professor provides you their class’s syllabus. But you take more than one class. So, over your first two days of classes, you have 5-6 syllabi (I learned the plural of syllabus is syllabi in college).

Bolded deadline dates from your five classes looks intimidating. That overwhelmed feeling is Syllabi Syndrome. When experiencing said syndrome it doesn’t matter that all the work is not to be completed in a week, but instead over a four-month period.

Instead, you see and feel the expectations of five professors all at once. And you think to yourself, “How I am ever going to get this done?”

The Syllabi Syndrome is not limited to the freshman college experience. It’s for all of us who have entered a new situation, and in that new situation, feel like there’s so much to be done. So many people to meet. So many details to follow-up on. So many expectations!

I’m suffering from Syllabi Syndrome now. I have a new job. New church. New home. New city. New state…you get the idea. So, to self soothe and perhaps provide some practical takeaways for some of my readers who are in a similar situation (or will be), I’d thought I give some thoughts about how to maneuver through it.

When you’re faced with a lot of “new” in short period of time and feel the need to find a pathway to performance…

  1. Take a deep breathe. Literally and figuratively. Literally, long deep breaths have many positive effects. You can read about those through smarter people than me. And figuratively, create some margin to back away from the tyranny of the urgent.
  2. Set simple systems. Don’t take it all on at once. Set short-term low goals. If you have two thousand pages to read, well, you have four months in your semester to read it. So, take 120 days divided into your 2,000 pages to be read, and you have your short term low goal of reading 16 pages per day.
  3. Get commitment clarity. Avoid committing to anything that’s not required. When people give you things to do, seek clarity. Am I required to this? If so, what’s the timeline? You may learn what you think is required or expected is actually closer to a suggestion.
  4. Remind yourself you’re not indispensable. Particularly if you’re having the syndrome feelings in a new job. Remind yourself that you haven’t always been here, and in most cases, they were managing without you.
  5. Look for sympathy, better yet, empathy. Find people who have been in the same situation and get a little perspective from them. They’ve been there the previous semester. They’ve been the new guy or gal on staff. They know what it’s like to drink from a fire hydrant. And they also know the fire hydrant eventually runs out of pressure.

So, if you’re experiencing this made-up syndrome like I am, then join me in using these steps to get out of it.

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Priority Filter and Consequences

Daily, if not hourly, we’re intentionally and sometimes unintentionally making priority decisions related to work projects. So, in an effort to provide “practical takeaways for everyday church leadership” I thought I’d provide some of the filters I (try to) use.

4 Priority Filter Questions on deciding on which work

  1. Related to my work, is this a must do? Litmus test: If I don’t do this work, I lose my job. Or things break. Or at a minimum I keep people from doing their jobs. If these could be true, the work is a “must do” and should remain a high priority.
  2. Am I called or convicted by God to do this? You could respond “no” to question one, and yet “yes” to question two which makes it a must do. For those who follow Jesus, and for those whose work involves church leadership, your priorities may not make sense outside of a spiritual realm. Yet, if we’re called to do something or convicted, then it should be our highest priority.
  3. What’s the collateral damage if this is delayed? You may determine from question one it’s not a “must do,” that things aren’t going to break because it’s not done. Yet, a thoughtful effort of considering what will happen if it’s delayed may reveal its priority. As a leader one of our jobs is to make value judgments. In leadership, your priorities create or bog down others’ priorities pathways. Probably once a week I will ask someone I work with, “If X doesn’t happen, what’s the collateral damage to you or your team?”
  4. Is this really still important to me? My wiring is such that I like to finish things. If I set a goal, I really want to complete it. Yet things change. And what was important to me six months ago when I was planning my work goals may no longer be important (to me or my church). You’ve got to give yourself freedom to abandon goals when in light of current circumstances they no longer merit your highest attention. What’s one thing you’re plodding away on that really made sense even two months ago, but now you should really just “cut bait” and move to the next priority?

Consequences of Unintentional Prioritization

  • You’ll work really hard, but not move the needle – you’ll fill up your work time with non-strategic work.
  • You’ll be the poster child for being the “tyranny of the urgent guy/gal.” You’ll move from project to project and only do what you “feel” up to (or even worse, what someone else feels for you).
  • You’ll do others’ bidding but not what you’re uniquely equipped to do (or even compensated to do).

Whether you wrestle down your projects, let them slide, or jettison them, be thoughtful about how you make those decisions

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Why I’m Not Busy & You Shouldn’t be Either

I’m not busy.

Mainly because I all but refuse to use that word in description of my status. I may say, “It’s peak loading time right now,” or “It’s a little stressful, but I am managing through it.” That may seem like just semantics, but in my mind, it’s more than that.

Living in a continuous state of busyness reflects poor stewardship of time. It reflects an inability to prioritize. I get that sometimes no matter how well you steward and prioritize your time, you’re still busy. I’m in the same boat. But I’m talking about excessive busyness. I’m talking about feeling busy most days of the week. About the mentality that people like to wear on their sleeve as a status symbol. I don’t think that type of busyness is healthy, and therefore I try to avoid it (and I have so much free time, I’m writing to tell you I think you should avoid it too).

Here are some reasons I’m not busy:

  1. I limit what I put on my calendar. This is a priority exercise. What’s the best use of my time? Some efforts of time are best, whereas others are just good. Determine value and calendar accordingly,
  2. I block time on my calendar to work on specific projects (and I don’t spend it catching up on emails).  Whenever I’m least pressed for time during the week (for me, Sunday afternoon), I view my week’s calendar and either do work or schedule time to do that work in the week. I head into Monday knowing I’m prepared for the week or have blocked time to prepare.
  3. I leave margin in my calendar for the unexpected. Scheduling to 80% is a good rule of thumb. This allows for me to respond to the urgent and unexpected. (I’ve blogged before on “Surviving the Unexpected Time Consumers”.) It allows me time to help those I serve alongside. This 20% margin time allows me to “grab five minutes,” or to adequately respond to my boss, or even quickly read those emails with the little annoying red exclamation point ‘!’ on them.
  4. I say “No.” I may not actually speak the word, but I’ve discovered ways to pass on opportunities and tasks that aren’t job critical.
  5. I continuously look for better ways to be efficient. For things I can’t say “no” to, I examine whether I can lessen my time commitment. Sometimes that means changing my philosophical approach to workflow, as explained in the book Essentialism, and sometimes I just adopt a work-hack I’ve seen. (I’ve listed a few of them, in a later paragraph.) If I see someone who stewards their time well, I ask them how they do it. Here’s some resources I’ve read recently, and in part, put into practice:
  1. I don’t compromise my time with God. I could spend a lot of words on this point, but suffice it to say, the time I spend with God in the mornings has a direct correlation to my effectiveness. I could use that time to complete more of my tasks, but I choose to wait to do them knowing I’ve brought them before God.

Best hacks I’m currently using, keeping me from being busy:

  • I add buffer to most meetings. If I think a meeting will take 45 minutes, I book an hour. The buffer isn’t in case the meeting runs late, it’s actually for me to deal with output from the meeting. If I can do any follow-up in that fifteen minutes, ( send an email based on meeting conversation, I do it then. If nothing else, I can file my notes from the meeting.

So that a new day’s emails and unplanned tasks don’t overwhelm my most productive time (for me, early mornings), I strive to end each day by leaving a project on my desk for the next morning – ideally,  an hour’s worth of work that doesn’t require a computer, or at least not email. This allows me to focus quality attention to an important task, when busyness rarely interferes.

It goes without saying, I sometimes violate everything I’ve written (including the last bullet). But typically I follow these, and despite a lot of people and things vying for my time, I’m able to say and believe, “I’m not too busy.”

But what does all this mean for you?

If you’re not doing one of the things numbered above, should you be? Would doing one of these not only relieve you of the semantics of being busy, but actually slow your life to a pace in which you can accomplish the most important work you have?

If you’re a person that likes to say, “I’m busy,” I encourage you to rethink this and evaluate why you’re attributing your value to living a frenetic life.

If you’re one who thrives on living in the “tyranny of the urgent,” I propose to you that it’s not sustainable, and warn that something is going to get missed. That’s the nature of urgency… urgent is rarely done beautifully… it’s messy.

And if you’re like a lot of people (including me) who can sometimes feel overwhelmed by their tasks, I suggest trying one or more from the list above. I hope they can make a difference.

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