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15 Jan

101.2 The time mess of other people

So, you think you finally got it, you are on top of it, you can time manage like a pro and act on your priorities.

And it all works out well, you can see the big picture, you act on your goals, you do the important stuff, while other people seem stuck in a gluey mess of unclarity. The same gluey mess that made you rethink your time strategy, destructure your habits, restructure your time use and basically take quite a bit of time and thought to put yourself in a better, more focused position.

You do very well, that is until you have to deal with one person (or more) that is still stuck. One person that somehow attaches themselves to one of your projects, and has no time-related cognitive hygiene whatsoever. A person that plays in work time (because they are unclear about their goals and they procrastinate on them) and works in play time (because they are guilty they haven't done real progress). A person that thinks you should use all the time until your project deadline to work, think, (read be insecure about, and generally mumble in the fog of) the same one project.

A person that postpones when you want to take action, but cries out you should act together when you want to work on another project. Or think together, or talk about it (read doubt all sensible strategy to just move the project forward, and instead waste hours just generally being stuck in doubt and this illusion that the project is harder than it first seemed to you). All this happens until this one project, which you could have settled yourself in a few focused hours or days of work in a flow state, ends up being this huge messy cloud, that hangs over your entire schedule for weeks or months. Until you don't know when to anticipate the next step (because you wait for that other person to make up their mind and act or just trust you can move forward). So you end up anticipating that work on the project might happen at all times, and feeling the project is unsolved for weeks, together with the helplessness and lack of ability to focus on other things that come from that.

Congratulations, you got stuck on someone else's cognitive mess and bad habits. You will feel helpless, frustrated and be generally unproductive and waste good work time (and relaxing play time) for a looong time.

Why is this so frustrating? Well,  if you are the type that I described above, that generally has a good work ethic and quite a grasp on their own time management procedures, this will frustrate you even more, because you put the work into clarifying some principles that make you productive, in creating those good habits of handling work and making space for rest and relaxation. That is you put in a lot of work of self-reflection, change, and good judgement where you could have just bumbled your way around into work with a foggy mind (which is definitely the easier option). Quite possibly, to make time for upgrading your strategies, you had to juggle other things, to resist the pressure of urgent but not as important projects. So why do you have to deal with all this mess, all over again, when you've done your work? And why does it get harder, the more days the project takes, and it feels the clarity, balance and sense of sanity you have obtained is slipping away?

A good way to think about your time takes work, and generally saves you lots of trouble. It is a form of mental hygiene. When out of this zone, everything can feel overshadowed by one project, on which you feel like you are working all the time, but make little or no progress. This brings about feelings of helplessness and self-doubt on your ability to progress, lack of ability to work on other things and sometimes even lack the ability to enjoy your time off or make plans around this foggy mess. Is natural to want your cognitive hygiene back, it is the same, if not more important, as wanting to keep a clean house. They are people which are more sensitive to mess than others. I, for one, cannot focus when there is a mess over a certain threshold in my environment, and definitely work best in very clean and well-structured spaces.

It is the same for my mind though. I don't work well if my schedule or finances or state of relationships is unclear. I need clarity in the big picture of things. When things get messy (in real or metaphorical ways), I compulsively try to clean them up. At least that is proactive, because I know if I wouldn't clean them up I would get stuck in limbo-land.

As I stumbled upon this bit of knowledge about myself quite early in life, I have accumulated a bunch of strategies to cope with mess (read clean it up), and generally use a journal to clarify things for myself when the mess is not at physical levels.

Bad time and organizational habits are not acknowledged enough as the very damaging things they can be. We make smokers consume their bad habit in the rain and cold, not to be affected by it, but there is no generally accepted code of action when confronted with someone else's bad time habits. Most of the time we even feel bad for getting frustrated, and god forbid we lose our cool and explode on one of our colleagues stumbling around moments - we feel bad and apologize for ages to come. We feel like somehow we've been impolite, but also like a transgression has been made against us. A transgression which we don't have the vocabulary to express or communicate about until we explode.

So I propose we create that vocabulary. It is very damaging to be stuck in someone else's foggy mind, and we should acknowledge the ways in which that mess affects us. We should develop boundaries, strategies to deal with and ways to communicate to these people that in their innocuous disorganized way, they are making our lives hell.

Do you want to learn how to develop boundaries with the people that are creating mess in your life? Head over to the mission, and practice this great habit!

See connected lesson 101.2 Keeping Boundaries

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