I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the road lately. Sharing time with brilliant, energized groups of creatives is one of my favorite parts of what I do. But travel also means airports, taxis and – let’s face it – rushed meals alone on technically clean tables.
Last week I was in Canton, Ohio speaking to a wonderful group, and as part of the return trip I had a planned three hour layover at the Detroit airport. I immediately began making lists of all of the things I was going to accomplish during my layover: write an article, do some mild strategy work, follow-up with a few clients, and respond to about 50 e-mails. Pretty ambitious, but certainly doable given the amount of time I had.
However…what I’d not accounted for was the dearth of energy I’d be experiencing after having spent an hour speaking and much more time socializing, then hopping on the first leg of my return flight. I was able to respond to several e-mails, and do a little bit of writing, but that was all. My overly ambitious task list set me up for failure, which – in the end – produced a sense that I’d blown it. The unconquered list was staring at me from Omnifocus, and the weight of all that was left undone was oppressive. In truth, I felt a bit like a hypocrite. I’d established some personal expectations, and I’d violated them in a major way.
I’m learning to be more aware of the kinds of expectations I set for myself when “out of the pocket”. Because there are so many variables, it’s difficult to gauge what my true energy level might be at any given time. Regardless of my ambition, it’s better to set reasonable expectations and exceed them than it is to consistently set the bar far too high and fail. It’s important to recognize the kinds of work that are best suited to certain environments and then to dial down the quantity of work compared to what you would expect to get done in a static environment. Chaos yields inefficiencies, so it’s best not to fight it. Look for pockets of stability instead.
How about you? Are you setting reasonable, but stretching goals for your workflow, or are you consistently falling short of your own expectations? When you are in the pocket, go for it! But I’m learning that when my day will be a tad less than predictable, it’s important to cut myself some slack. Excessive ambition is a cruel taskmaster.