Surviving Chaos

Several years ago I was meeting with a senior level executive of a global corporation. As we sat in his lovely European office discussing his team's leadership training strategy, I couldn't help but notice this man had nothing on his desk. Nothing. The credenza behind him held a computer and a phone. I did not see a single piece of paper, a file folder, not even a pen. Wholly concentrated on his conversation with me, he didn't have one distraction in his line of sight.

I was inspired! I had found a new vision -- a Zen office!

It took me some time to get there. I am one of those people who would rather appear overwhelmed than incompetent. In other words, in order for you not to find fault with what I'm doing (or more likely NOT doing) I need to be doing A LOT -- or at least SEEM to be doing a lot! And to prove to you how hard-working and super productive I am, I need physical evidence to back it up - piles of papers, files, sticky notes, an impressive white board with projects written all over it, not to mention running around the office with my hair on fire so you know I am WAY TOO busy to possibly get that thing done you asked me to do last week!

Sound familiar? Feeling my pain? Well it gets worse: I COACH this stuff. We have an entire workshop devoted to Mastering TIME! So I knew I needed to change, and fast.

Here are 5 lessons learned along the way (with lots of help from David Allen's Getting Things Done, Learning as Leadership's Time + Mastery seminar and my wonderful clients who I learn from every day.

1.Get rid of the crap. Now what you define as crap could be arguable, but I say anything you have not used (or worn for that matter) in the last 6 months should be archived or disposed of. File everything away so there is no visible paper on your desk other than what you are currently working on. Holding on to things because you might need them "some day" will end you up on A+E's "Hoarders." Have you seen it? Not pretty. Trust me, when in doubt, throw it out.

2. Be in reality. Anything that is in a "to do" or "to read" pile will not get done or read unless you've blocked the time in your calendar to do so. I work with so many brilliant people who have NO IDEA the time it takes to actually do their job. If they did, they would probably have a breakdown. Plan it, put it in the calendar and do it. If you can't do it, delegate it, if you can't delegate it, say no or tell your boss you need a clone.

3. Email is the devil. Really. Get in, get it done and get out. Or you WILL spend your life in your inbox and your children will be in college before you realize it. And it never ends. Ever. Don't delude yourself people.

4. Chaos is the new normal. So many of my clients have the illusion that they will clear the piles, get to zero emails, complete the projects, hire ten new people and life will be bliss. Wake up folks! Our world is chaotic, we thrive on chaos, weather is chaos, nature is chaos. Forget even trying to control it. The only thing that will save us is to manage it. Who survives a tornado? The ones in the eye of the storm. BE THE EYE. Let the chaos swirl around you but don't let yourself get caught up in it. And don't fantasize about that beach vacation where everything is calm. The last beach I went to was windy, with big waves whisking people off in the undertow, and lots of sand sticking to my SPF 50-covered skin.

5. Enjoy the ride. OK I am repeating here what you have heard a million times before. But until we have one of those near swipes with death, which I happen to know several people who have, we don't seem to understand that LIFE IS SHORT. How on earth, I often muse, did I get to be looking at my 5th decade fast approaching? It seems surreal! How is it that my niece, who is almost 9, knows the workings of my i-Phone better than I do? I have no idea, but please, let's not be too busy working hard that we miss the whole point - to spend time with the ones we love, to do things that bring us joy, and to give a little back to others in need.

So how am I doing with all of this? See for yourself --  below is a picture of my piles!