Crisis Cleanup

I was in Prague this last July to present a paper at a conference, when my summer pretty much devolved in a few short hours. It started when my wife called to tell me that a member of our family had died in an accident. Within an hour of that call, I learned that one of my grants was unexpectedly defunded. Additionally, my step-daughter and her family moved in with us for the month of August as they prepared for a move to Costa Rica, I took two classes, and tried to get ready for the new semester.

In short, I've been in a constant crisis-state for about a month-and-a-half. I breathed a little sigh of relief last Thursday when, for the first time, I started to see some regularly coming back into my schedule and task list.  

In some ways, working in Higher Ed is similar to running one's own business. We have the freedom to choose many of our priorities, but we can also feel like the weight of an enterprise rests on our shoulders. And when crisis comes, the whole system can feel like it's falling down around us. 

I took some important lessons away from the last six weeks...

1.  Crisis tests priorities - One evening, my wife came into our make-shift bedroom (the kids and grandkids were in our bedroom) and said, "I just need to get away with you for a little while." My first reaction was, "I've got too much to do," but I knew she was right - I needed the same thing. We drove around town for about an hour, just spending the time talking to one another. Crises test our ability to make good decisions on the best use of our time - and spending time with those most important to me is the best use of MY time. In GTD terms, many of my current projects became "Someday Maybe." 

2.  Crisis tests our independence - I was overwhelmed by the generosity of friends and colleagues over the last six weeks. When the grant was defunded, several of my colleagues helped me scramble to find institutional funds and draft an interim plan. A family friend took us all to a resort for a day of rest. I am rarely comfortable with giving my plans over to others, but crises are times where we can discover our need for interdependence.

3.  Crisis can redefine success - It is tempting (at least for me) to feel like we are failing to meet our goals and objectives when we are constantly sweeping up the messes around us. I had to spend some time reminding myself that, at least for a while, "sweeping up" is success. In time, the messes will accumulate at a slower pace, and we can start to plan again. 

4.  Crisis is exhausting - I only made it to the gym a couple of times over the last six weeks. I run on the treadmill with a heart-rate monitor. Usually, I can run at 4.5 MPH with my heart rate at a steady 140 - but lately, my heart rate has been at 160 at the same speed. I shared this with one of my colleagues in the Exercise Science dept. He looked at me incredulously, and asked, "Ever hear of stress?" We just don't have the same energy under the stresses of crises that we do in calmer times. Feeling tired and run-down is not exclusively emotional - it's physical as well.

I was able to make a pretty good list of future posts during the last six weeks, so I am hoping that I'll be back to regular updates. Meanwhile, if you find yourself in crisis, be sure to cut yourself some breaks!

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Posted on August 29, 2015 and filed under GTD, General.