It’s not been the best of times. My wife Chaz is having our first child in November and we’ve discovered over the last few weeks that the baby has some complications. Some “structural problems” is what the amazing NHS folks in the lightly coloured shirts and chino trousers seem to call it. So we ask questions and try to remember the answers on the way home, we ask each other what it all means, we calculate percentage chances and we ask Dr Google who unhelpfully directs us to alarmist articles featuring distraught parents from the archives of the Daily Mail.
September was supposed to be safely “early enough” that I was to make my first trip to Australia. It’s been planned for a year. I was going to give a keynote at Australia’s biggest volunteering conference, run some productivity masterclasses in Oz’s coolest cities and go and meet my new Australian publishers ahead of my book launching there early next year. A really exciting work trip, popping in on my friends at ProductiveMuslim.com in Dubai on the way back home. A final, pre-fatherhood work fling!
Yet as the time approached and the hospital visits became a bit more frequent, it became clear that Australia would be too far away. I needed to be here for September. At the moment, “life” is getting in the way of all of those best-laid plans.
So over the weekend I stared at my diary and wondered what to make of the emptiness. I wonder how much of a stretch it would be to continue with September’s scheduled productivity experiment “Global Office” in which the intrepid ninja runs his office as normal with just a laptop bag and an internet connection. No matter how hard I try, Costa Coffee in Kings Cross doesn’t have quite the same ring and excitement as the Sydney Opera House.
And then I remembered the words of my coach, Rasheed Ogunlaru, from a time a couple of years ago when I was panicking and scared. He stopped me in the middle of my paranoid rant and said “Graham, this is your material”.
Productivity is nothing to do with perfection. It’s about making the best reality. And as the old saying goes, “when life throws you a lemon, make lemonade”.
So this month is no longer “global office”, or “out of office” as I was planning to rename it. This month is “the lemon”.
What’s my hypothesis?
Every new experiment starts by me asking me what’s my hypothesis. But since I haven’t had time to think of one, let me offer the truth instead. I have an empty diary, I’m upset at having let people down, I’m anxious about our baby and I’m feeling quite distracted.
What I know is that I’m determined to make something of this time anyway. I suddenly have about seven free weeks in September and October due to cancelled trips. Yet of course I have no idea how much of that time I’ll be able to devote to work. I’m both open and uncertain. It’s like sitting in a rowing boat in the middle of the ocean, with no horizon in sight – it’s your choice if you choose to feel lost or free.
So I guess my hypothesis is that it’s at precisely these times that we need to be a Productivity Ninja more than at any other time. Having just returned from my “Abyss” experiment, detached from work for a month, I badly need to do a proper weekly checklist review and start doing my daily checklist as well. It’s at moments like this, bobbing along in your rowing boat in the middle of the ocean, that you realise that you do have the map to help you find some shore.
But since “taking things day by day” has become my catchphrase in the last couple of weeks – and there may be troubling times ahead – I’m going to try and use this month to explore productivity through the eyes of someone distracted and disorientated by “life” getting in the way of best-laid plans too. And it’ll be interesting to think about how we strike the balance between productivity and being kind to ourselves and those around us at times when the latter feels like the most important thing in the world.
After all, these are the challenges of which Productivity Ninjas are made.
Hopes and fears?
Again, I usually start each month by focussing on my hopes and fears and for this new experiment, I’m unprepared. To be honest, my hopes and fears have been many in the last few days, but none relate to productivity experiments.
So really, my only hope is that I make something good and interesting from this strange and unexpected blank canvas. My only fear is that I end the month without any lemonade.