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When Life Gets in the Way

January 25, 2011 — By Dr. Pete

Boy and WallLate January seems filled with those days. We hit the ground running in the new year, start getting delusions of grandeur, pile 3 days of to-dos into 1 afternoon, and then BAM! – along comes life to remind us who's in charge.

I'm speaking from fresh wounds. My wife went back to work Monday for the first time since our 6-month-old was born, she immediately had to travel out of town for 2 days, our full-time nanny started Monday, and the baby started solid food, all at once. Needless to say, my new favorite position is fetal.

It's easy to give up on all that new-year optimism, but a few setbacks shouldn't destroy your resolve for the next 11 months. So, what do you do when life gets in the way?

Try to Be Realistic.

Just because you kicked butt yesterday doesn't mean you'll accomplish all that + 10% today. Past performance does not indicate future returns, as the investment world likes to remind us.

In fact, it's usually the opposite – there's a principle in math called "regression to the mean," and it seems to pop up in life all the time. If you got twice as much done as normal yesterday, then you can count on having a 50-percenter to balance it out – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

So, count on that 50-percenter. When you have an amazing day, bask in it, but don't expect the glow to last. One way to do this is to carve out your plan a week at a time. You can tweak it day-by-day, but don't move all your Wednesday deadlines to Tuesday just because you were a rock-star on Monday.

Cut Out The Noise.

Know what has to be done and what you can cut loose. If you realize at noon that you've lost 2 hours and are going to have a 6-hour day at best, it's time to shut down Twitter and Facebook, skip your 3nd coffee break, and figure out what's mission critical. The world (and the barista) will still be there tomorrow.

Learn to Be Flexible.

Have you ever spent an hour surfing the web and goofing off, only to get completely bent out of shape when someone interrupts you for 5 minutes? I mean, you were just about to get something important done when that idiot had the audacity to barge in! Sure you were.

We overreact to what we can't control, but most of the time, that 5-minute interruption is nothing compared to the time we waste all by ourselves. Worse yet is when we turn a small interruption into a grave injustice in our heads, inevitably destroying whatever motivation we have left.

You can't control everything, and if you could, you'd probably still have problems. Roll with it.

Remember The Forest.

If you work from home to spend more time with your family, but then get bent out of shape every time one of your kids interrupts you, then what's the point? You're staring so hard at that tree in front of you that you forgot why you came to the forest in the first place.

Life isn't an inconvenience – it's the whole point of why we're doing whatever we're doing most of the day. We get so tied up in the urgency of whatever we'll get yelled at for not doing that we forget what's important.

That tree in front of you may be coming up fast, but only because you're running at it. Stop for a minute and remember why you're here.