Choose your battles – and your projects

Matrix organizations such as the one I belong to, often lead some differences of opinion that sometimes go your way and sometimes don’t. Any job presents situations where within a group, some ideas rise to the top and others sink to the bottom. Additionally, depending on the groupthink involved, the chosen path might be the right one or led off from its the intended purpose. For some reason, I find myself in this situation often – usually several times in a week, perhaps based on my particular job.

Chip Conley did a tangentially related talk on Rypple recently about solving for happiness at work. Most relevant were his comments on anxiety, as he suggests you ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What don’t I know?
  2. What can I influence?
  3. What can’t I influence?

I think this is an immensely helpful barometer to help you choose your emotional battles. Honestly, if you have no influence and don’t have an alternate path to get there, it’s a waste of your time and energy to allow it to take up brain space. It’s the same idea that stress is when you want something to be a certain way and it isn’t. In a situation where you have no power to change it, don’t get upset or find a way around it.

This extends beyond the job. A small example is that there are times when I really can’t stand the slowness of the line in the alumni cafe downstairs. On a busy day, it’s a waste for me to spend emotional energy on getting irritated by the wait. My solution? Either grab and go to avoid it altogether, or get in a short walk in the sunshine and go somewhere else. It sounds simple and silly, but there are plenty of people put into similar repetitively irritating experiences who continue to get fired up – myself included.

Back to the subject of choosing your projects. I care deeply about the work that I do and since I have a perfectionist instinct, I’m always ready to go to bat for my ideas, as exhausting as that can sometimes be. If I feel like there’s a right decision, especially if I’ve invested thought and data into the process, it can be difficult for me to walk away. In a couple of meetings over the last two weeks, I’ve said my piece and when the decision goes the other way, I’ve just let it go, which can be refreshingly liberating.

With a 10 day vacation coming up this week, necessity has altered my perspective on my pile of work as well, and I think it’s a healthy experience. You eventually reach a place where it’s clear that it’s impossible to accomplish everything and decisions have to be made. The key is to know which items can fall off the list and how you manage those expectations. I’ll actually use Basecamp if I had something scheduled to do this week, by moving the milestone back a month or two if I can and don’t think about it until the time arises. Equally important is taking a wide view to determine what’s absolutely critical. In the next two days, I’ll be assessing my work, letting people know what I can’t finish and just let the rest go. This way, I can have a physical and AND mental vacation while I’m out of the office.

One Response to “Choose your battles – and your projects”

  1. Victor Says:

    You covered a lot of ground in this post. It’s fascinating to observe how given the same circumstances in the workplace, different people with different standards and expectations of themselves will influence how they handle the dilemmas at hand. You definitely have an admirable sense of self-awareness – your observations and understanding of group dynamics in your workplace are illuminating. And for you, these also appear to be liberating. If only more staff colleagues across the university had this ability…we would all be in excellent shape! Enjoy some R&R these next 10 days!

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