I have always enjoyed September and the promise of fall – with the crisp evening air, fire pits, and football. I know this fall still seems very different to us all than in years past. We are still experiencing significant impacts on our daily lives related to the coronavirus and the importance of keeping one another and our clientele safe and healthy. I recognize the additional burdens of figuring out childcare coverage, navigating local school protocols, and managing our own concerns (and the concerns of others) as we continue to find our way through this pandemic. I truly appreciate all you have been doing as colleagues and friends to work through both personal and professional needs in the spaces where you work and live. I know it has not been easy expanding and contracting programming and adjusting schedules based on continually moving targets. I also know that it’s easy to be pulled in many directions as various stakeholders reach out with requests and it is often too easy to say yes to everything, instead of:
- “yes, but later.”
- “I can’t, but perhaps [insert name] can.”
- “that is something that is on our plan of work for 2022”
- “I appreciate the offer to get involved and that is a great topic, but my calendar is full until…” and even,
- “I am sorry but that is not something I can commit to because…”
It is so important to focus on what really matters right now, to give attention to the key priorities of your program, your role, your plan of work. When is the last time you pruned what wasn’t key? Did you use the last year to identify what wasn’t missed or could be done differently? Is something truly a sacred cow or do we just imagine it is? Don’t be afraid to ask what can/should be reduced or eliminated and what key initiatives, goals, outcomes are important this year and make room to place a laser focus on them. I, too, face daily distractions, multiple demands from internal and external stakeholders, and even more challenging sometimes… the new and exciting opportunities that are hard to let pass you by. It is always a challenge. The key is focusing on what counts and continuing to assess and reassess what matters. I’d like to share a bit of wisdom on that topic from one of our very own. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me this week:
Do the Things Which Will Count
Emily Marrison, family and consumer sciences educator, OSU Extension
I keep a small, blue booklet within arm’s reach of my desk. I have found it to be a valuable tool and inspiration in the work that I do. It was published in February 1922, yet has timeless wisdom. T.J. Talbert of the Kansas State Agricultural College Division of College Extension penned “The Extension Worker’s Code” as a guide to excel in educational outreach efforts. Much of the advice is useful for anyone regardless of your calling in life.
This spring I was especially struck by the section titled “Do the Things Which Will Count.” Depending on our personalities, we can be inclined to get sucked into things that waste precious time. I’m not just talking about lazy habits like watching too much television or letting time evaporate while you are on the internet. We know those are time wasters, right? I’m also talking about the good things that still aren’t the best things. Talbert puts it this way, “It is a great art to know what to leave undone, to know how to weed out the less important things, and to spend one’s energies in doing the things which will count.” He goes on to say, “Once we have formulated a plan… we must stick to it regardless of our tendency to be sidetracked by other pressing duties and obligations. Otherwise, all our good resolution and work begun will amount to little or nothing.”
I had adjusted quickly to working from home during 2020 and the beginning of 2021. At first, it was strange to be less busy, but it was also incredibly freeing. As many workers have returned to in-person work in businesses and offices over the past few months, I’ve heard more comments about feeling busy again. In a quest to squelch this slow creep of the return to busyness, I’ve also been reading a more modern bulletin from an Extension colleague in this century. Tim Tanner developed a time management curriculum for Extension professionals.
Tim is an avid reader and researcher, and he found that American employees are at their best when they possess high levels of personal well-being. He also found that ancient and modern religious scholars have long noted that an orderly approach to daily life creates greater human joy. Studies show time and time again that we humans are not created to be efficient multitaskers. MIT neuroscientist, Earl Miller, says that our brains focus on one thing at a time. When we attempt to multitask, we are actually switching back and forth very quickly between tasks and missing out on key observances.
The last thing we need is to climb back onto the hamster wheel many of us had escaped from. Here are three things I am doing to discipline myself to do the things which will count:
- Emails: I do not keep my email open all day long. That way, the arrival of a new message does not dictate that I immediately answer it. Responding to all messages once in the morning and once in the afternoon allows me to focus on tasks fully the rest of the day.
- Reading: I schedule time on my calendar each week to read and research to keep up with the latest discoveries and information in my field.
- Goals: My 2021 goals are posted on the wall near my desk. They are a daily reminder of the most important things to focus on, so that the urgent does not win over the important.
Today I’ll leave you with this quote from William Carey. My husband keeps this quote near his planning calendar. For doers who like to stay busy, these are wise words to consider. “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”