I Screwed Up. You Will, Too. And It’s OK.
Can I tell you a story?
A few months ago, on a Thursday night, right before I was about to close up shop for the evening, I got an email from someone reminding me about a deadline. Usually, I have an unintentional reflexive response of slight annoyance when I receive reminder emails. (Don’t people know I’m on top of it??)
Well, not this time.
This time, as I read the email, my face flushed hot. I looked in the mirror and I was bright red. This was a tell-tale sign that I had screwed up royally. So this time I was pretty darn happy to receive that reminder.
Here’s what happened: I realized that I had agreed to something; I had told this person I would get it to them by the following day. And then I had completely forgotten about it. Why had I forgotten? Well, my system is typically so foolproof that I don’t rely on memory at all. But this time, my system had failed me. Or rather, I’d failed my system.
For whatever reason, this task, this obligation, never made it into my task system in the first place.
I was mortified. (My accountability is a core part of my identity; it’s the quality I value most in myself, and in others.)
But, this time I had time to fix it and make good on my agreement. What I needed to do would take about an hour. An hour I hadn’t planned for because this never made it to my task system and therefore wasn’t time-blocked.
So here’s what I did:
I took stock. I looked at my task system and my calendar for the next day, and I pivoted my plan. I saw that I had a meeting scheduled that I knew could be postponed without consequence. So, I reached out and moved the meeting. And I used that hour to do the work I had agreed to. I met the deadline. No one was the wiser…expect for me. (And now you! :) )
But, let’s pretend that I found out about my screw-up only after it was too late and the deadline had passed, or it was too late to do anything about it, or if my scheduled hadn’t allowed me to make room for it. What would I have done then?
In that case, I would have reached out to the person to whom I’d made the commitment and let them know what happened, how it happened and when I would be able to send over the deliverable. I would have taken responsibility, apologized profusely, and then moved forward.
Sometimes, we screw up. It happens to all of us. But it doesn’t have to hold us back. As I said, my system is pretty darn foolproof. So this was an anomaly for me. And I so I did a little post-mortem with myself to figure out how it happened, and what I could do to prevent such an occurrence in the future.
Sometimes we screw up a little. Sometimes we screw up a lot. But here’s the thing. What’s done is done and we can only move forward.
Often times when I work with clients, they imagine that there will be a point at which they will be “done”; they’ll be perfect at time management and it’ll never be hard again. But that’s not true in my experience. We all have slip ups. We all fall off the wagon every once in a while.
Below, you’ll find a graphic showing the steps in a well known model of change. You’ll see that relapse is one of the stages.
The goal of improving your skills and changing your habits to start using your time intentionally, in support of your goals and your values, is not perfection. Because that’s not possible.
But, every time you go through the cycle, the relapses become shorter and shallower and you learn from them.
We improve through faltering. (Sometimes “the hard way” is the best way to truly learn.)
When I work with people, my goal is not that they will never fall again, it’s that they’ll have learned the skills and strategies that work for them so that when they fall, they know how to get themselves back up and in a good place.
You may get to inbox 0 and then go on vacation and come back to 1000 emails. But once you’ve learned the skills of handling the incoming (and the backlog) you’ll know how to get back to 0 again without feeling like you have to read every one of those emails one by one, or digging yourself out for weeks.
You may, at some point, have built such a strong habit around end of day planning that you don’t need external accountability anymore, because it’s just part of what you do automatically. And then you might find yourself facing pressures that make it difficult to maintain your habit on your own. And you’ll know that what works for you will be to find an accountability partner again..
Improving the quality of your time, and therefore your life, isn’t about being perfect. It’s about incremental improvement and resilience. And it’s a skill you can learn.
As I said before, my system is pretty bulletproof. But it’s not perfect. Because I’m not perfect.
Neither are you. And that’s ok. Don’t let that fact distract you from your continued quest for improvement.
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Originally published at https://www.alexishaselberger.com on January 17, 2022.