The AOPA regards “Get-There-Itis” as a syndrome that “claims the lives of dozens of pilots and their passengers yearly.” My own term “Get-It-Done-Itis” isn’t quite as serious (nor does it roll off the tongue half as well), so I don’t know if it will catch on. But it’s a syndrome that has weakened quite a few work days for me, and maybe you.
I’m a morning person, which means that I tend to wake up before the alarm and go through the transition from bedraggled sleeper to productive citizen with a certain impatience. I’m checking the calendar, to-do list, work and personal e-mails, eating, showering, dressing – all with a certain mania to Get It Done – getting the trivial or necessary-but-not-productive stuff out of the way so I can tackle the Big Thing on my Agenda While It’s All So Fresh in My Mind. If I could figure out how to do all that “small stuff” that stands between me and putting my feet on the floor in my bedroom and putting my hands on the keyboard in my office at once, I’d probably do it. That’s how stuff like this gets sold.
So that’s good, right? If you play your cards well and you beat that traffic light at Cobbs Ford Rd. and the Bypass, you’ll be an hour ahead of everyone and can clear the decks without interruption – why is that motorcycle cop waving at me?
Get-There-Itis creates dangerous conditions and is fed by impatience. Get-It-Done-Itis works in a similar way:
- It perpetuates a vicious cycle of impatience and interrupt-driven thinking. If I can get my mailbox clear I can work on the Big Thing. Here comes another e-mail. A one-word answer to my best customer should be sufficient. Or maybe not. The hustle of getting to the Big Thing does not make for the mental clarity to work on the Big Thing. Many has been the time when I’ve succeeded in getting all the stars to align – only to find the blank page (or the home screen of the admin console) staring at me. Okay, what was your idea again?
- It weakens the strength of your ideals and encourages you to cut corners. If you have eaten an energy bar and had instant coffee to drink instead of making an omelet and brewing some french press coffee (or whatever rocks you for breakfast), opted not to go for your morning walk (or opted not to shower after your morning walk – ewww!), and driven like a maniac instead of enjoying the ride to work, what in that routine has put you in a frame of mind to be creative and do your best work? Aren’t you going to create “solutions” that look a lot more like an energy bar than an omelet?
- It ignores the fact that work is a marathon, not a sprint. Many is the time I have hustled through the morning routine and “trivial” tasks to get that “magic hour or two,” only to find that my initiative wears off with the adrenaline.
- Makes you feel really, really bad when something major comes along to knock your plans off-course. “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Attributed to Woody Allen, this quote well sums up the feeling I get when I’ve exerted enormous effort and stressed out myself and others along the way, only to find out I’m now either working on something else or worse, waiting unnecessarily with nothing I can really do to speed things along. Interruptions and emergencies are never pleasant, but a reasonable attitude keeps your head clear for when you can get back to the Big Thing. In the words of the 21st century philosophers Jennifer Nettles, et al, it happens.
So what do we do about it?
- Write it down. If you’ve ever done creative writing, you know that the bright idea can be fleeting. But sometimes it also needs to incubate. If you can’t push everything aside and get to work on it right now, right it down. It may need a little time to marinate anyway.
- Schedule it. After writing it down, schedule it. I’ll confess that perfection eludes me in this practice, but make the time to deal with all the interruptions whenever that’s best for you, then carve out the time to work on the Big Thing. You’ve probably heard the story about filling the jar with rocks, then sand, then water, and how it doesn’t work the other way around. Even if you get thrown off track
a bita lot, blocking the time out will make it far more likely that the Big Thing will get implemented in the near term. And the very act of scheduling it helps you access the time requirements, which may lead you to ponder whether it’s worth doing. I’ve actually scrapped a lot of ideas this way, which is good because it’s left me free to pursue better ones.
- Recognize the importance of all that sand. Time management literature tends to play to the idea that all the little mundane things we do all day is the enemy, the stuff that’s wearing away at us. But it’s a lot of our lives, whether we like it or not. Most of our human interactions are centered around it. Recognizing the value of it, even as we try to get it done and get through it, can lead to a much higher quality life.
Get-It-Done-Itis may not cause you to literally crash, but like flying blind, it can ruin your whole day.